John 3.16 Recovered!- John Piper Preaches the Glory in a Much Abused Text

June 18, 2009

We all know it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  This is probably even the first Bible verse most of us learned (it was for me, I memorized it off of a pencil from the Christian bookstore).  And it is a great verse.  But is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Last year a group of raging Southern Baptists used this verse as a bludgeon to attack Calvinism as if it were an R-rated movie or a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels.  They preached John 3.16 as a defense against the doctrines of grace, saying that the claims of this verse and the claims of 5-point Refromed soteriology could not be any further apart.

In light of that, there was much anticipation (at least in my heart) for the day when the well-known Calvinist John Piper, in what is sure to be a decade long exegesis of the Gospel of John, finally arrived at this verse.  This he did recently, spending two weeks on it, and boy did he not disappoint.

The first week was just a going through of the terms used in John 3.16.  God.  The world.  Gave.  Son.  Believe.  Perish.  Life.  And in doing this he did not sound all that different than his non-Calvinist (Arminian?) counter-parts, even agreeing that ‘the world’ refers to all of fallen humanity and not just the elect.

Oh, but then, then there is the one word he left out.  Love!  This was week two and this is where he recovered the glory of this passage from its prooftexting idolaters.   I will not go into what he said, I encourage you to just listen for yourself, but here is his main thrust: “Those who believe, God wants you to know his love beyond simply the love spoken of in John 3.16!”

Just listen to it.  You’ll be glad you did.

John Piper- God So Loved the World, Part 1

John Piper- God So Loved the World, Part 2

Numbering the Casualities of J316C- Further News from the Trenches

December 9, 2008

This is just a short post, but I wanted all of you who have been following the aftermath of the John 3.16 Conference and the whole of the Calvinism v. non-Calvinism debate in the SBC with me to see this article posted yesterday by SBC Calvinist Timmy Brister about the pastors who are being ousted from their congregations simply for holding Calvinist viewpoints. It is a sad account of what is truly happening as a result of the things that have recently been said.

As I stated in my comment on the post,

[W]hen [the] words [of the conference presenters] produce these types of actions, even if it was not their stated intent, they should have enough integrity to speak out against it or to have watched how they spoke about it in the first place.

This was my expressed fear when I composed my open letter to Dr. Johnny Hunt and Dr. Jerry Vines prior to the conference, and as Mr. Brister has shown, it is the realized effect of what transpired.  This is unfortunate.

There are some who still holdout getting worked up over this because they think it will all blow over, but to them I would recommend Brister’s words:

Friends, this is why I confront the anti-Calvinism in the SBC. I don’t care about debating Calvinism per say. I don’t care to “Calvinize” the SBC. What I do care about are the men of the cloth called by God and appointed to preach who are being forced out of their churches for the crime of being a Calvinist. Imagine what this does to their families. This is not a game. It’s about biblically faithful, confessionally Baptist, theologically conservative God-honoring preachers getting put out on the streets because of an anti-Calvinist agenda.

This is not a game, and it is not passing fad.  How many pastors and their families should be unnecessarily persecuted (yes, this is a form of persecution) by their Baptist “brothers” before the outrage is not against Unconditional Election but against the Unconditional Hatred that is beginning to surface?

I need to stop before I get angry and fall into sin over this.  Just please, join with me and be in prayer over this controversy and for these men and their families as they try and pick up the pieces and move on.

The John 3.16 Conference- Anthology of Posts

December 6, 2008

As it seems that the controversy over the John 3.16 Conference isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, I have decided to collect all of the pertinent posts I have made so far on the subject and place them in one location for easy access.  They can now be found under the tab J316C at the top of the page.  The posts are gathered under a couple of headings: Pre-conference posts, Letter, Conference, and Personal responses.  If you have viewed these already and would like to recap what’s gone down, they’re all there.  If you haven’t yet seen this but want to catch up, have at it.

As always, comments and criticisms are welcome and I will do my best to respond to any discussion that people want to start involving these posts.  Have a nice day and happy reading!

The John 3:16 Conference- Assessing the Aftermath One Month Later

December 5, 2008

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.

A Demonstration in Contradiction- What the John 3.16 Conference Says about Itself

November 26, 2008

As you all know by now, this blog has been firmly entrenched in the lead-in, execution, and aftermath of the John 3.16 Conference earlier this month at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA. I am not in the business of beating a dead horse, but because I couldn’t resist I thought I might share with all of you a quote that I found online earlier today.

The quote comes from the non-Calvinist friendly Baptist Press and is part of their article in review of the John 3.16 Conference. Speaking about the point of the conference, here is what conference organizer Jerry Vines had to say:

“I want to help our people understand the issue,” Jerry Vines said in a phone interview prior to the conference. “I don’t expect to change a whole lot of minds; my primary interest is to bring balance to the issue.”

Balance? The point of the John 3.16 Conference was to bring balance? I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that majority of the SBC was running around spouting a belief in Calvinistic principles while the non-Calvinists sat back trembling in fear. Besides, what could be more balanced than a bunch of like minded people gathering together to present their views unopposed while systematically misrepresenting their opponents position left and right?

I’m sure Dr. Vines would defend his statement by saying that it is balance against the (evil) Calvinist conferences such as Together for the Gospel, Ligonier, and Desiring God. However, this is blantantly false, as one, I can testify as someone who went to the DG conference this past year and heard not a word spoken that was propagandizing for Calvinism, and two, there are plenty of Calvinist unfriendly conferences in the SBC already, in particular the Pastors Conference at FBC Jacksonville.

Honestly, and this is a point I have tried to hammer time and again and again and again: the pinnacle of balance was the 2007 Building Bridges conference, and the cherry on top of this was the sermon on unity and understanding delivered by (non-Calvinist) Dr. Danny Akin. Thus, instead of providing balance, what the John 3.16 Conference did was to represent a step back into ignorance and avoidance of the fact that both Calvinism and non-Calvinism have a legitimate claim to acceptance within SBC life.

This is the type of attitude (arrogance? ignorance?) which is going to lead to the split of the SBC. Anyone who was able to go to the John 3.16 Conference and see that as a move towards balance has already decided in their mind that they can’t be in communion with a 5-point Baptist Calvinist, and that my friends, is a crying shame.

Here is a link to the full article if you are interested.

The John 3:16 Conference- A Final Note on the Audio Files & an Article by a Calvinist Missionary

November 16, 2008

As many of you that have been following the fallout of the John 3.16 Conference may be aware, there has been considerable interest and/or controversy surrounding the personal recordings I made of the event. I did, at some point on Wednesday this week, make the decision to post these recordings as audio files for download on my site. Over the next 24 hours several people downloaded them, but a couple of people contacted me questioning whether this was in fact a legal action. Because of this I both temporarily, and then permanently removed the files from my site, in order to seek further counsel on the matter.

After seeking this counsel I am still receiving mixed signals as to the legality of distributing these audio files. Because this appears to be such an area of confusion, and because among some people this has caused mistrust and animosity, I have made the decision to not distribute these audio files any further than they already have been. I make this decision in light of Titus 1.7 call for leaders (and by example all of us) to be above reproach. For any of you who I may have offended by my actions, I apologize, and I pray that you may see my heart has been towards nothing but glorifying God throughout all of this. For those of you still interested in the conference, I encourage you to read the numerous reviews that have been posted thus far on it and, if the desire is great enough, to obtain the CD’s from Jerry Vines Ministries.

Also, just for further consideration, I would like to pass along to you guys an article which was emailed to me about being an “SBC Calvinist & a Missionary.” I believe that the ideas expressed by the author are in perfect parallel to the way I see this issue as well. You can find it at this link. Enjoy!

The John 3:16 Conference- Moving Forward as Calvinists in the SBC

November 15, 2008

Over the course of the last several posts I have tried as best as I could to review the positions taken and ideas expressed by the presenters at the John 3.16 Conference, provide my own response to what they said in defense of the five points of Calvinism, and tackle several sticky issues of accountability and future outcomes. Finally, to wrap it all up, I would like to give my own personal feelings about how Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention should move forward from here.

First off, there is the question of why I even find this important to begin with? Is my interest in having “SBC” stand for “Southern Baptist Calvinists”? Certainly not. I do not expect everyone to eventually come to the conviction that the Calvinist soteriological position is the only possible way. Instead, what I desire is that those who call themselves Southern Baptists can be joined in unity over the inerrancy of Scripture and our responsibility to share the Gospel message, and that issues of soteriology can be addressed in their right role as secondary matters which do not interfere with our primary purpose.

Why do I hope for this? Because God has blessed the SBC in so many ways, with both great financial and physical resources, that to see us squander this on something that should not even be of first importance would be a horrible tragedy. Many people today would abandon the denomination in a heartbeat if it begins to conflict with their personal convictions on salvation, and I can’t say as I blame them necessarily. But, I have made a commitment in myself to pursue the unity of this body (the SBC) so that we can use the advantages God has blessed us with in order to complete his purposes in the Great Commission.

Therefore, having made that commitment and having seen the conflict that is rising between the recent Calvinist resurgence and traditional SBC thought, what do I think is the proper way for young SBC Calvinists to more forward? Should we engage in the battle and set the stage for an ultimate Calvinism v. Non-Calvinism deathmatch down the road, or should we completely disengage and quietly follow our convictions regardless of the firestorm around us? I think it needs to be a balance of both approaches with a primary basis in honoring God above all else.

As Calvinists we need to be determined to follow our biblical convictions in spite of the derision or opposition that we may face, not compromising on the Word of God as has been revealed to us. If we begin hedging our beliefs or remaining silent on how we truly feel in order to ease the animosity that some may have towards us, we will simply give a foothold to those who already oppose Calvinism, that they may further call the genuineness and biblical nature of our convictions into question. We also need be careful not to direct the same derision and opposition towards our non-Calvinist brethren, as I have already noted that their soteriological convictions should just be a secondary, in-house matter to us.

Then as regards to engaging the debate, I believe the most powerful argument we have for the inclusion of strong Calvinistic beliefs in SBC life is a humble adherence to and consistent portrayal of the doctrinal conclusions in Calvinism. We must not let the opposition frame Calvinism as an arrogant assertion of God’s favor towards the elect and hatred towards the non-elect, nor as a system which promotes irresponsible Christian living on the basis of God’s sovereign election. Instead, we must emphasis the role of God’s glory in the greatness of his mercy, the sovereignty of his election, the worthiness of his sacrifice, the power of his grace, and the faithfulness of his commitment, without any of which we would have no hope for salvation. We should not wear our Calvinism on our sleeves, but we must be prepared to exclaim the supremacy of God in our soteriological convictions, and do so in a way which reveals our commitment to the word of God and not just a blind adherence to a theological system (this means that, if you are only a Calvinist because you read a John Piper book, then you need to hit the Bible and verify/solidify your convictions with the teachings of Scripture).

People aren’t going to be convinced of the genuineness of Calvinist convictions because we yell the loudest or write the most convincing blog posts. What will convince them is the condition of our hearts and the exhibition of God’s love through our daily practice. The foreordination of God’s election and the definiteness of Christ’s atonement should be of no hindrance to our evangelism since God’s decree of who will be saved is no more known to us than anyone else; and thus our responsibility lies in sharing the Gospel with all who are without Christ, knowing that God will be faithful to save all of those whom he has appointed to eternal life. We must demonstrate that a Calvinist zeal for evangelism exists in accord with our convictions, and not in spite of them as some have tried to rationalize.

Above all, we must emphasize a commitment to giving God the glory in all that he does, since the essence of sin is trying to take away from God’s glory and apply it to ourselves.

Calvinism in the SBC is a big issue right now, and, as I have shown throughout these posts, stands largely unresolved as to how the convention itself is going to deal with it. There seems to be a very real sense in which this debate, if not handled in a biblically appropriate manner, could cause a great division, and possibly destruction of our denomination in the near future. Therefore, for those like myself who have both Calvinist beliefs and a conviction to preserve the SBC, the final verdict could ultimately lie in our hands. If we choose a path of arrogance and argumentation then we could argue ourselves right into a denominational split, while if we move forward with head down in ambivalence we could look up one day to find our convictions no longer welcome in SBC life. However, if we choose to live transparently, magnifying the glory of God in his sovereign decrees and the convictions of Calvinism, we can demonstrate to everyone why the acceptance of Calvinism in the SBC is a move towards, and not away from, the heart of God.

The John 3:16 Conference- Audio Files Update & A Personal Note

November 14, 2008

This is just to let everyone know that, though I moved to temporarily protect the audio files of the conference while addressing issues of legality, their have been voices making accusations that I was only hiding them under password and secretly distributing this password to amiable parties. I would like to deny that accusation, and as a move of accountability and in the interest of staying above reproach, I have removed said files from my blog.

On a more positive note, I would like to thank all of the people who have come here to interact with this debate and to read my reviews and responses to the presenters at the John 3.16 Conference. I would especially like to thank those fellow bloggers who have directed people here by links on their own blogs or word of mouth on discussion boards and to those who have issued words of encouragement as I have developed these thoughts. It has been my desire all along to provide a reasonable, young Calvinist perspective from within Southern Baptist life to both serve as a voice for the youth among the aged elites of the SBC, and to be an example in the spirit of 1 Timothy 4.12, that those who would criticize the Calvinist resurgence would be aware of the strong biblical commitment being made by those “young, restless, Reformed” among them.  I pray that I have done my best on both fronts and that the words I have spoken here will provide nothing but God-honoring reflection on the road behind us and the road ahead.

Please continue to feel free to interact and engage with myself and the others who are reading this, and watch for my final post on the conference which will be my heart as a young Calvinist in the SBC as to how I should proceed from here.  Thank you.

The John 3:16 Conference- Final Summary

November 13, 2008

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.

The John 3:16 Conference- Audio Files Posted

November 12, 2008
UPDATE: Since the question of legality has been raised I want to once more confer with people who know better than I on the subject of distribution in order to make sure that what I post here is in perfect alignment with American laws (and thus the Word of God).  Therefore, I will temporarily be suspending access to the audio recordings of The John 3:16 Conference.  Please check back to see the future status of these messages.  Thank you.
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As some of you may have realized by now, this past weekend I was able to attend the highly anticipated, highly controversial John 3.16 Conference at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, GA, sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries. What you may not know is that I also obtained recordings of all the messages and the Q&A session on my personal recording device.

I had initially remarked on various sites about making these available by email, but after finding the file size was too large to transfer I decided that I would make them available here on my blog instead. So, if you are interested in hearing what exactly was said at the conference you will find all sessions ready for download located under the ‘Resources’ tab on the header. Granted, these are not the greatest quality mp3 you will ever encounter, but I would say that most of you will find them perfectly sufficient.

For those of you who may be concerned, the conference made no comments about prohibitions on recording media of any sort, nor were there signs posted, and after conferring with the tech guy at my church we determined that it is perfectly legal to distribute these recordings under standard copyright laws. So please, take a listen and help us to keep the leadership of the SBC accountable for what is being said while this hotly contested issue continues to boil. Enjoy!

PS- If you tried to download these earlier and found Dr. Keathley’s message unavailable, please know that I have fixed the problem and you should now be download it at your convenience.