Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tending the Garden

Much has been said about the SBC convention this summer, particularly about the dialogue between Paige Patterson and Al Mohler regarding differing views of the doctrine of election. If you are a Southern Baptist leader everyone is wanting to know, "What kind of Calvinist are you?" Five point? Four Point? Three point seven five point? I've even met Baptists who say that they don't believe in predestination and election, to which I'm inclined to respond, "Really? Then you don't believe in two issues that Scripture explictly deals with?"

The bottom-line is that everyone believes in election and predestination. Almost no Southern Baptists are Arminian. If you were Arminian, then you would believe that men aren't spiritually dead as Scripture teaches (Eph 2:3),but are merely spiritually sick or predisposed to some kind of spiritual weakness. You would believe that God "elects" people to salvation before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), not based upon His eternal decree alone (Jonah 2:9), but based on how he has seen that humanity will respond to the offer of salvation (this is one view of biblical "foreknowledge" and it a widely held view of foreknowledge among many Southern Baptists). You would believe that Jesus died, not only for the sins of His people, but for the sins of the whole world (1John 2:2). You would believe that the grace of God is offered to all men and that men can resist the effectual (saving) call of the Holy Spirit on his own free will. Finally, you would believe, because men choose Christ, because faith (in this view) precedes regeneration, you would believe that men can also ultimately walk away from Jesus and lose their salvation (Heb 6:4-6).

As I write, I understand that some of what Arminians believe is precisely what many Southern Baptists believe, but not entirely. In other words, many Southern Baptists are Calminians. They've taken the best of Calvinism (TULIP; Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistable grace, Perseverance of the saints) and the best of Arminianism and wedded to the two systems to form a hybrid systematic theology concerning the call and process of salvation that isn't wholly consistent within itself (another topic for another day). Most Southern Baptists believe that: 1) humanity is totally depraved and spiritually dead (Calvinism); 2)God elects based on what His foreknowledge about what He has seen men will decide about Jesus (Arminianism); 3) the atonement of Jesus is universal in its scope but effectual only to those who believe (Some Calvinists and all Arminians); 4) the saving grace of God is able to be rejected by men and regeneration does not happen until a person expresses faith (Arminian); and 5) those who confess Jesus are eternally secure in their salvation and will persevere until the end (Calvinism).

This is what all the rage is about in the SBC right now. As you can see, I'm well-versed in the debate. But this is not the point of my post. I'd simply like to call to the attention of well-meaning theologians in our Southern Baptist churches the reality that the entire garden of church and theologcial life needs to be tended. As Al Mohler, who happens to be a Calvinist, said in the dialogue at the Pastor's Conference at the SBC convention in Greensboro, NC, there are some Calvinists who would "fly across the world to defend Calvinism but won't cross the street to tell someone about Jesus." I think this is true, not just about evangelism, but about other critical issues facing Southern Baptist churches in Western culture. We need to pull our head out of the TULIP's and realize that there are equally important, critical issues facing our churches that need our attention as well. What are they? Here's a short list:
  • Meaningful Membership. We boast membership rolls exceeding 16 million people in our SBC churches and less than 30% of those members attend on a regular basis. More than 90% of our churches have platued or are declining.
  • Church Discipline. This explicit directive in Scripture has long been ignored in most SBC churches and the health of the church is suffering because of it.
  • Feminism. Young academic women who flood our college campuses every year are being indoctrinated with a feminist agenda that is contrary to the teachings of Scripture and the church is largely silent on this issue.
  • Preservation of the Family. There is a worldwide assault on the definition of family and we have been slow to respond culturally. We are also as guilty as secular culture of dismissing the importance of family since more than 50% of Christian marriages end up in divorce.
  • The Mismanagement of Youth Ministry. The majority of students who group up in youth ministry in a local church, once they go to college, will leave the church and never return. If this trend continues youth ministry will be one of the greatest hoaxes and mismanagment of resources and energy in the history of the church. Something is wrong with the way we are training and equipping students in the Western church. Is anyone listening?
  • The Loss of the Gospel. The gospel message is getting lost in our pragmatic, consumeristic approach to ministry.

The list could go on. I encourage those of us who take the name of Jesus seriously to tend to the whole garden. The bible is wholistic in its instructions about life, but far too many of us have reduced it to a weapon to defend the systematic theology we are most passionate about. Don't misunderstand me. Theology is important and we should devote our time and energy to its study. But it should not be to the exclusion of equally pressing matters in the church and the world.


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