John 3:16 Conference, Nov. 6-7, 2008, Woodstock, GA.
Monday, December 8, 2008–Here is a great link to Ronjour who has this debate in a timeline of links that is outstanding:
Update on Sunday November 30, 2008– Here is a video blog by James White about the Limited Atonement just for Dr. Allen of SWBTS!
And here is a good post by strangebaptistfire:
The John 3:16 Conference was held at FBC Woodstock, GA on Nov. 6-7 to discuss and rebut Calvinism as it exists in the Southern Baptist Convention. This was not, apparently, a disputation or debate, in that no Calvinists were invited. According to the Founders Ministries Blog
the conference was designed as a response to the Building Bridges Conference of last year that brought together the Calvinist and Arminian branches of the SBC for a dialog/debate. The John 3:16 Conference was just for the Arminians, which is fine- the Founders Conferences are just for the Calvinists.
I am absolutely convinced that these conferences and the dialog within the SBC about the Doctrines of Grace is a major positive and is a sign of strength and vitality within our denomination. Just think about what other denominations dialog about…ordaining homosexual preachers and bishops, whether or not Jesus really existed or if he is divine or not, how we can better compromise with the muslims…etc. etc.
Here is the link to the Baptist Press article about the John3:16 Conference:
Allow me to summarize the article and the arguments against TULIP that were summarized in that article. The Arminian branch of the SBC is the majority of the SBC (although the Founders Ministries Blog by Tom Ascol made a beautiful point- the majority of the SBC doesn’t even show up for church on Sunday so is that the majority they were talking about! LOL that is soooo true) and this conference seems to have been to build up the majority with some good doctrinal teaching and preaching from the Arminian side. The overall concern of this Conference is shown in a quote from Dr. David Allen, Dean of SWBTS:
“Calvinism is not the Gospel,” he said. “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward five-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the Gospel.”
The Arminians are afraid that a move towards Calvinism would damage missions and evangelism.
I believe that that fear is deeply, even historically ingrained in the consciousness of our denomination and the Arminian brothers. Of course there are anecdotal evidences of this being true in our history. The yper-Calvinists, rare though they may be, do seem to be against missions and evangelism in some ways. But our Arminian friends seem to ignore the dangers of their theology: easy believism, unbiblical evangelistic methodologies, and a variety of man-centered programs, music and doctrine.
Let’s call it the way it is: whether you are a Calvinist or Arminian (albeit a Bible believing Conservative/Fundamentalist Arminian) there are theological pitfalls for each; we remain sinners and it is amazing that God uses any of us. I will continue believing that Calvinism places a proper emphasis on the sovereignty of God and that Arminianism places an improper emphasis on the role of man in salvation. You Arminians believe the opposite. You can continue your efforts at spreading the Gospel, and God bless you! We shall continue our efforts at spreading the Gospel, and I hope God blesses us too. We can continue to have a dialog and try to convince each other, all for the glory of God.
However, if people like Dean Allen get a bit overzealous, and an effort is made to purge the seminary of Calvinists, either the professors or the students, then that would be a sad day in the SBC. 20 years ago when I was in Dr. Doyle Young’s Baptist History, he stated that the next big fight in the SBC might be over Calvinism. I pray he was wrong.
Now allow me to critique the summaries that the article presented. Here are my disclaimers: 1) I did not attend the conference nor have I read the papers presented; 2) this blog post, like most of my others, is written hurriedly, without the benefit of my library or careful exegesis. Hey, I’m an old mortar man from the Army, I’m used to hip shoots, fire for effect and area targets.
“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.”
Response: When the majority party of the SBC seeks to bring “balance to the issue” does that imply that within the SBC there is an imbalance tilting toward Calvinism? I really don’t get that statement, “bring balance to the issue” It seems to me that a one sided conference designed for those who think the same way is not about bringing balance. Kind of like how the Democrats want to bring back the “FAirness Doctrine” (talk about Orwellian double speak) by limiting talk radio when the Libtards own ABCCBSNBCCNNMSNBC and every major newspaper in Amerika and all of Hollywood. No, I’m sorry Dr. Vines, balance would be if you allowed the other side to present their positions in your venue. There is nothing wrong with having only your side there, but do not call it “bringing balance”. That is disingenuous.
“During the conference, Vines and other speakers emphasized that the event was intended to address theological issues and provide information rather than attack Calvinists. “I’ve never felt that disagreeing was attacking,” Vines said, adding that he has many friends with different views.”
Response: I see nothing wrong with this at all and I appreciate the attitude of non-attack. I absolutely agree that disagreeing can be agreeable. Don’t you agree?
Vines said that the Greek word for “whosoever,” which occurs more than a thousand times in the New Testament, carries the idea of “anyone, anywhere, anytime. Whosoever believes in Him is John’s normal way of describing saving faith.”
Response: In regards to the use of “whosoever” in John 3:16 I agree with Vines and it does seem a bit embarassing to watch my fellow Calvinists go through hoops to try to redefine whosoever at times. I do think, however, that the Arminians fail to understand or accept that God’s love for all the world has some distinctions and some other scriptures must be taken into account. On the one hand, I can affirm that God loves the whole world, meaning everyone, every individual. On the other hand, I believe it is easily shown in scripture that there is a special love for the Redeemed, the Bride of Christ. God treats the Elect in a different way than he treats the lost. So when John 3:16 says “For so loved the world…” we need to understand he does love the redeemed in a different way. The “whosoever believeth” portion means what it says, but the Arminian must look at the “whosoever” honestly. Who is it who actually believes in Jesus? The Arminian would say those who freely choose Christ. I would ask why do some choose Christ and others do not? What is the difference between them? Why are the “whosoever” the “whosoever”?
This gets to the point of the doctrine of Election very quickly. The Arminians will say later in this article that it involves God’s foreknowledge. They define foreknowledge as simply God choosing those whom he sees choosing Christ in the future. God’s choice is therefore dependent upon theirs. However, even though that was the answer given me in my youth, I began asking questions. “If God can really see the future before it happens, and sees that I will in fact choose Christ and therefore God chooses me based upon my choice, which has not yet happened, but will certainly happen, how is it a free choice on my part if God already knows it will certainly happen?” If God has not predetermined it to happen, then who or what has?
I have never seen an Arminian able to answer that question sufficiently. At least the Open Theism crowd is honest about it, but the Arminians leave it dangling.
What is the basis for the choice of the “whosoevers” in John 3:16? Why do some choose but not others?
My belief is that there are two ways of understanding salvation that must both be accepted. 1)Salvation from our perspective in space and time- we must acknowledge that God loves the world and the gospel is for “whosoever” and that we make a real decision to accept or reject Christ and our decision has eternal consequences. As we preach, we do not know who will respond, therefore we preach “whosoever will may come”. 2) Salvation from God’s perspective in eternity and the spiritual realm- we must acknowledge that he is sovereign and has ordained all that comes to pass, including my salvation. As a sinner, I am spiritually dead and cannot choose Christ. I have a sinful nature that would never accept Christ, only flee from him. God the Holy Spirit overpowers my inability and changes my nature so that I can now act freely according to the new nature He has given me and I then choose Christ by believing in him and repenting of sin.
I think that sometimes we Calvinists use language that is too blunt and we ignore parts of the gospel. To say, “I had nothing to do with my salvation” is technically correct in view of eternity and the spiritual realm, but, I’m sorry, that is not how we actually experience it. We do feel conviction, we do repent, we do choose to believe. BUT, if we fail to grow beyond our own personal experience and fail to ask the harder questions and understand salvation from God’s perspective, then we remain immature and out of balance. Why did I suddenly change and believe the gospel? Why did I repent when I formerly loved my sin? It is unexplainable apart from the sovereign power of God. I once was blind, but now I see.
I think this is demonstrated in Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus uses two illustrations to describe our salvation. 1) You must be born again. Being born is not a choice, it happens to you, you have nothing to do with it. 2) He refers to the work of the Spirit being like the wind, you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. But you see and feel its effects. You don’t move it, it moves you. I don’t choose to have the wind blow; it is beyond my will and power. Jesus uses two illustrations to demonstrate our need and our helplessness. Then comes vs. 16 and the “whosoever believeth”. Jesus is speaking here of two realms of action and two actors. The Spirit and you. The Spirit causes us to be born again and it is mysterious like the wind. But you better be believing! This is clearly a both/and situation where one goes behind and beneath the other to explain that mysterious working of the Spirit.
Whew! What a rant.
“In Scripture God commands men to believe,” Vines said, asserting that God would not command people to do what they cannot do.
Response: I have heard this one so much I want to puke! I have no problem at all with God commanding us to do something which we are unable to do. Did not the same God give us the Ten Commandments? Does Brother Vines and Co. think any of us can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly? What about the Greatest Commandment and the 2nd which is like it? Does brother Vines keep those, even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life? How much more difficult is it to believe in Christ when you do not have the Holy Spirit!
But experientially, as we hear the command to repent and believe, some will take it to heart and trust in Christ! We must not take the command and say flippantly, “I am unable, therefore I choose to reject Christ.” We must understand the command in the here and now as well as in light of the spiritual realm. But the mature Christian will know that my response to the command of Christ was not of myself, it was wrought by God.
T — TOTAL DEPRAVITY
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the issue of total depravity from Romans, saying that depravity means no one is right with God. Any good deed done is tainted with sinfulness, and there is no fear of God or ultimate peace in a person’s heart. All of mankind fell in Adam and are affected by his sin.
“Does that mean we are born guilty before God?” Patterson asked. “I do not think that can be demonstrated from Scripture. We are born with a ‘sin sickness,’ a disease that makes it certain that we will sin and rebel against God.” The Bible says people are condemned for their own sins, he said.
“Look at what dead men do,” Patterson continued, citing Ephesians 2:1: “… [Y]ou were dead in your trespasses and sin.’ If you are dead, then you can’t do anything to respond to God.” Patterson pointed to verses 2-3, which says, “You walked according to the course of this world … you once conducted yourself in the lusts of the flesh fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind….”
“This is analogy, you are dead in trespasses and sin, and pressed too far, you will make it say more than it says,” he stated.
Response: Did Patterson really say this? This is way bad. Totally confused. If we are not born guilty before God, what are we? Are we born innocent? If innocent then are we born neutral towards God, leaning towards God, or what? How can someone with a sin nature be innocent? And then he goes on to say that we are “dead in our trespasses and sins.” Innocent but dead in sins? How does that work? Patterson rightly asks, “Look at what dead men do…” Hmm, what do dead men do…oh yeah..they freely choose Christ! He says, “If you are dead then you can’t do anything to respond to God.” Thank you! That makes my point..but wait, “This is analogy, you are dead in trespasses and sin, and pressed too far, you will make it say more than it says.” ummm, excuse me?! Dead is dead isn’t it? Unable to do anything, ANYTHING, to respond to God.
I am just not at all sure what Patterson was trying to say here, but I can agree that the lost man is dead in sin and cannot respond to God. We are totally depraved and unable to change. From this point every other point in the TULIP follows.
U — UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke about the second point, unconditional election. Land provided a historical overview of Baptist beliefs on the topic and said election is consistent with the free agency of man; the question is how election is defined.
He also stressed the need to differentiate between God’s corporate election of Israel and individual election, which he said is intertwined with and connected to God’s foreknowledge.
Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “… God our savior, who will have all men to be saved,” Land said the Greek word for “will” is an earnest desire.
Reacting to Reformed commentaries that say “all” can’t really mean “all men” because if God willed something it would have to happen, Land said, “I believe in a God who is so sovereign and so omniscient that He can break out of Calvin’s box … and He can choose to limit Himself and He can convict us and He can seek to bring us to conviction … but He will not force us.”
Response: I am unaware of any scripture that states man is totally free in light of God’s sovereignty. I can see many verses that clearly state God is sovereign, but those verse on man’s freedom are hard to find. Excuse me but in a universe that has been created by and is sustained by, an all powerful Creator admits only one being who is “Free”- that would be God. All other beings, even moral beings created in the image of God, are less than free by definition. Scripture is pretty full of examples of sinners being in bondage, but that free thing…? Where is that verse?
To Land, election is intertwined with and connected to God’s foreknowledge. I argued my position on foreknowledge above so I won’t repeat myself repeat myself here.
God desires all men to repent and doesn’t want any to perish. Here we see that there are two levels to God’s will: his revealed will and his secret will. He commands all men to believe and he wills or desires all men to be saved- but not all men believe or are saved. He reveals his will for us in the 10 Commandments, but we each break them all the time. To sin is to go against God’s will, desire and commands. A good and loving God desires and commands all men to be save yet few are actually saved. Why? Because though many are called, few are chosen. Funny how Christ’s words explain this so simply.
One standard complaint about this is that some say this makes God’s invitation to salvation hypocritical, insincere. Not if you realize that God’s secret will is to save some to display his grace and mercy and to damn others to display his justice and righteousness. Furthermore, who are we to complain against God who did not have to save any? He is free and justified to command all of us to repent and believe but not empower any of to do so. We would remain guilty and in our sins.
L — LIMITED ATONEMENT
David Allen, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s School of Theology, challenged limited atonement quoting only Calvinist authors because “the best arguments against limited atonement come from Calvinist writers.”
Allen named a long list of Calvinists, including John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, who did not hold to limited atonement. Martin Luther and the early English reformers held to universal atonement, which means Christ bore the punishment due for the sins of all humanity.
“The debate is very much about the sufficiency of the atonement,” Allen said. “In the high Calvinist position on limited atonement, Christ is only sufficient to save those for whom He suffered … the non-elect according to that position are not savable, and the reason they are not savable is because Jesus didn’t die for them … they are left without a remedy for their sins.”
Limited atonement has always been the minority view among Christians, even after the Reformation. The correct view, he said, is “all are savable but they must believe.”
If “world” means the “elect” in John 3:16, “whosoever believes shall not perish leaves open the possibility that some of the elect might perish,” Allen said. “That’s a problem.”
Any teaching that God doesn’t love everyone, that God has no intent or desire to save everybody or that He didn’t die for the sins of all humanity is contrary to Scripture and should be rejected, he stated.
“Limited atonement is built on a faulty exegetical foundation,” Allen said, citing verses such as 2 Corinthians 5:15 and Romans 5:18. “… There is no statement in Scripture that says Jesus died only for the elect.”
Response: I think Allen is correct about some of this in that the doctrine of limited atonement does have a wide range of meanings and is the most frequently forgotten of the TULIP. I do think that this argument can go like this: Clearly the perfect man, son of God/son of man, dying on the cross would be a sufficient sacrifice to pay for the sins of all people of all the world for all time. Christ has infinite worth and our sins have a finite number. But who actually has their sins paid for, atoned for? The Elect, the Church, the “whosoever believes”. Atonement is available, yet many choose to remain in their sins. This choice to stay in their sins compounds their sins because salvation is available and paid for. Sin adds to sin.
But that doesn’t end it. We must ask what was God’s intention in the cross? To make salvation possible or to actually save some specific number? Was it indeed possible for all men to reject Christ and for none to be saved? Did God take a huge gamble? Was it really God’s will to save all men but his will got frustrated to the extent that only a tiny minority of all men of all the world for all time got saved? Excuse me, but that sounds like a pretty weak and pathetic god to me. Did God know what he ws doing or did he not?
God declares the end from the beginning and his will stands. The death of Christ on the cross was sufficient for all, but applied only to those who actually repent and believe and they repent and believe because of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit goes only to those whom the Lord sends him. The atonement is clearly limited in purpose and effect even though it is sufficient for all and all are commanded to partake.
In his concluding remarks, Allen expressed concern about the effect of five-point Calvinism on preaching and evangelism. “Anything that makes the preacher hesitant to make the bold proclamation [of the Gospel] to all people is wrong,” he said.
“Calvinism is not the Gospel,” he said. “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward five-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the Gospel.”
Response: Wow, where did that come from? I have never heard that Calvinism makes a preacher hesitant to make a bold proclamation of the Gospel to all people. Unless he is talking about some of the hyper-calvinists failure to send misisonaries. Hey, every group has the nut jobs and if you want to compare the few Calvinist nut jobs with the boatload of Arminian nut jobs go ahead….Open Theism anyone?
His last comment was just plain tacky and he really ought to apologize. i won’t hold my breath.
To be continued…
OK, I am back so now I will finish.
I — IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke about irresistible grace.
“Salvation is tied in some measure to our response,” he said, citing several biblical examples of what he said were people resisting God. For example, in Acts 7:51 the Jewish men who stoned Stephen were said to be “always resisting the Holy Spirit.”
Lemke said that while Calvinists don’t deny people can resist the Holy Spirit in some situations, they believe the effectual call is irresistible.
Response: I affirm that our response is a real response experienced in space and time with real consequences. People do resist the Holy Spirit. Ultimately however, the deciding factor in our conversion is the Holy Spirit. Why else do we pray for God to save our friends and family members? If salvation is not up to God, if the deciding factor is not the Holy Spirit’s irresistible call, why pray?
In addition to the all-inclusive invitations of scripture, when people in the Bible ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Lemke said they are told to repent and believe.
He expressed concern that irresistible grace can lead to the denial of the necessity for conversion.
Response: I have never heard a Calvinist deny that repentance and faith were not necessary. I admit to having limited experience here, but…I have heard many Arminians express the idea that they are “good enough” or worked hard enough for their salvation. Sooo, I guess we could trade insults on this all day long. I have seen many false conversions where people did a big public repentance and emotional conversion thing during an invitation…and 2 weeks later were living the same old way. i guess I would say that the real conversions certainly include confession o fsin, repentance and trusting in Christ- all because of the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit and irresistible grace.
Lemke also addressed the question as to whether a man is saved because he believes in Christ, or whether he believes in Christ because he’s saved. He said that irresistible grace reverses the biblical order of salvation, so that regeneration precedes conversion.
Response: Again I point to the conversation with Nicodemus and the need to be born again/above. If I am spiritually dead in my trespasses and sins then I am dead and cannot do anything until the Spirit overpowers me and opens my spiritual eyes, quickens my soul, gives me the faith with which to believe. How can a dead man have the faith or desire to believe?
P — PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
Ken Keathley, dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, covered the fifth point, perseverance of the saints. Ironically, he said, many Arminians and Calvinists arrive at basically the same answer: Assurance is based on the evidence of sanctification in one’s life.
While the Reformers taught that assurance is the essence of faith, the doctrines of the hidden will of God, limited atonement and temporary faith undermine this assurance, he said. Some argue that final justification is obtained by perseverance.
“Doesn’t this come close to a works-based salvation?” he asked.
Keathley said the only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ, and that saving faith perseveres or remains until the day when it gives way to sight.
“Any model that begins with Christ but ends with man is doomed to failure,” he stated.
Response: This always tickles me- how can Arminians say once saved always saved when they freely chose Christ. Why can’t they then freely choose to let go of Christ? Consistent Arminians do agree that you can lose your salvation. Either salvation is a work of God or it isn’t. If God caused me to be born again, I cannot become unborn again. I have personally seen the damage this theology has done to people who believed in their “decision” back as a child but had no discipleship, no lordship, no outward signs of being a Christian at all, yet they claimed once saved always saved.
Those who persevere to the end will prove that they were the elect. Yes I cooperate with the Holy Spirit in my sanctification, yes I follow Christ and work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, but it is He who worketh in me. My assurance is based not on my own obedience but on the Word of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. My obedience is a product of God’s grace working in me and confirms to a degree, that I am in Christ and He is in me.
See Steve Camp’s website on this same issue:
And here is another site that has some interesting posts on the Conference: