An Exercise in Bridge-Building

One of the more hotly debated issues in the contemporary SBC is Calvinism. Unfortunately, our intradenominational discussions about topics like predestination and the extent of the atonement have often generated as much heat as light. Both Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike have been guilty of dealing with their fellow Southern Baptists in less than charitable ways. This does not reflect well on Southern Baptists. More important, it does not please our Lord Jesus Christ.

In November 2007, Southeastern Seminary co-hosted a conference titled Building Bridges with LifeWay Christian Resources and Founders Ministries. The speakers included both Calvinists and non-Calvinists. The purpose was to model a better way to engage in spirited, though Christ-like dialog about this important issue. You can listen to the presentations here, or you can read the proceedings from the conference in Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialog (B&H Academic, 2008).

Between the Times is attempting what might be called an “exercise in bridge-building.” Alvin Reid teaches evangelism at Southeastern Seminary. Alvin is not a Calvinist. Nathan Finn teaches church history at Southeastern. Nathan is a Calvinist. These two men are not just colleagues, but they are good friends who truly want to see Southern Baptists discuss this issue, but do so in a better way than has too often been the case.

Over the next several days, Between the Times will publish at least three more articles about the Calvinism debate in the Southern Baptist Convention. The first will be an open letter from Alvin to Calvinists in the SBC. The second will be an open letter from Nathan to non-Calvinists in the SBC. These letters reflect the content of some of the conversations these two brothers have had with each other off and on over the past two years. Both men speak candidly, but from a spirit of genuine love rather than malice or competition. Our prayer is that their letters will be received in the same spirit they have been written, for the glory of God and the good of the SBC.

Lord willing, the series will conclude with a jointly authored article suggesting some points of consensus among Southern Baptists who disagree about the five points of Calvinism. It is our hopes this series will help further the cause of a Great Commission Resurgence in the SBC.

Our Two Newest Contributors

We have been contemplating expanding our number of contributors for several months. This weekend, we finally pulled the trigger. Our two newest contributors are no strangers to our readers.

Alvin Reid teaches evangelism at Southeastern Seminary. Alvin is the author of numerous books, including the recently-published The Convergent Church: Missional Worshipers in an Emerging Culture (Kregel, 2009), which he co-authored with SEBTS ethicist Mark Liederbach. Alvin is also a popular conference speaker and evangelist, preaching to groups ranging from high school students to state Baptist conventions. Alvin is of course the author of yesterday’s popular article, “I Have a Problem,” which, if our email inboxes and Alvin’s Facebook comments are any indication, resonated with 99.4% of everyone who read it.

J. D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. J. D. is widely considered to be one of the leading younger pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is also a former IMB missionary and the author of the forthcoming book Breaking the Islamic Code. Now we know what you are probably thinking: isn’t Between the Times a Southeastern faculty blog? What’s up with J. D.? Well, we have good news for you. J. D. has a Ph.D. in systematic theology and teaches adjunctively at Southeastern. Plus, he’s a two-time SEBTS alum of whom we are particularly proud. So we decided if we squint at J. D., he looks kind of like a professor, so we invited him to join in the fun.

We are thrilled that Alvin and J. D. have joined us. Even more important, all Southern Baptists are blessed that they are co-laborers in pursuit of a Great Commission Resurgence.mobil game

I Have a Problem

I Have a Problem

By: Alvin Reid

I have a problem…

I have a problem with Martin Luther. Oh yes, I know he started the Reformation and we owe him much. Yes, he gave us great hymns, Sola Scriptura, and other important contributions. But he did not come far enough theologically for my tastes. And he liked beer too much.

I have a problem with John Wesley. Sure, he led a great awakening and helped to spare England from much the French experienced in the French Revolution. He led a missional movement that resulted in thousands and thousands of new believers and churches. But he quite frankly was a terrible example as a husband.

I have a problem with George Whitefield. Whitefield, that young, bold evangelist who came to the American colonies seven times during the Great Awakening, preaching to multiple thousands while only in his twenties, did much good for the gospel. He even started an orphanage in the colony of Georgia which is still in existence today. But he also had slaves at that orphanage. Though he treated them well and preached Christ to them, I have a real problem with that.

I have a problem with Jonathan Edwards. Sure, he helped lead a Great Awakening. Pretty impressive. He wrote some of the greatest writings on revival in history. He was a pastor, leader, missionary, and thinker. But he is just a little too Reformed for my tastes in his treatise Freedom of the Will.

I have a problem with Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon stands as one of the great Baptist preachers in history and is likely the most quoted. A pastor, leader, church planter, and soul winner, Spurgeon did much good. But he smoked a cigar, and I have a problem with that.

I have a problem with W.A. Criswell. The famous pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, did so much good for the gospel and the SBC during his time. Criswell was more innovative than many know in evangelism, and had a constant burden to see people saved. He played a vital role in the conservative resurgence. But Criswell allowed his numbers to be inflated, particularly in church membership, which has not been a good precedent.

I have a problem with Mark Driscoll. Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and recent speaker on our campus, has seen possibly more hardcore unchurched young adults come to Christ in the last decade than any church in the US. He has led a church planting movement as well. But sometimes his language is a little edgy for my tastes, and I interpret the Bible differently than does he on the place of alcohol.

I have a problem with Alvin Reid. Yes, I have a problem with myself. I am pretty sure I really love Jesus and my main motive in life is to bring glory to God. I love my family, my students, and my convention. But sometimes I have added to the institutionalism and programmatic ministry that plagues us now. And I have a problem with that.

Finally, I have a problem with my convention. I am a Southern Baptist. I have blogged before on why I am a Southern Baptist. But I have a problem with my convention, when we seem more intent on witch hunts than on contextualizing the gospel in our time, when we love to pick at each other’s differences than unite for the sake of the gospel, when we are more concerned about our total receipts than we are the lostness of our nation, when we continually confuse personal preferences with unchanging truth, and when we castigate younger men who love Jesus and His truth for simply doing what we taught them to do: study and honor the Word (when they come to different conclusions than some of us on secondary issues, they scratch their heads at the response they get). I was a supporter of the conservative resurgence before it was cool. But the resurgence I supported did not include a Pharisaical legalism that expects conformity in nonessentials. I supported a resurgence to stand on the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, one that now has led me and many others to see the need for a Great Commission Resurgence to be built on the foundation laid by the conservative resurgence. I am tired of talking good younger men off the ledge from leaving the SBC.

So, I have a problem. I have many heroes. I did not name them all. But none of them are perfect. None of them are Jesus. I can live with that. I can honor people who may be more Landmark on the one hand or Reformed on the other than I am. I can learn from and respect people who love the Word and the Gospel yet who may do things a bit differently from me.

I wonder if I am the only one….