On Russell Moore and Convictional Kindness in the Public Square

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The wickedly keen theologian and ethicist Russell D. Moore will arrive on SEBTS’ campus December 3 in order to preach in chapel, speak to the faculty, and serve on a panel for the general public that evening. In preparation for his visit, I’ve had opportunity to re-read his inaugural address and reflect upon the way he is leading the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the SBC in his new role as President of the ERLC.

There are many reasons to admire Moore and follow his leadership: he is a top-shelf theologian, a bona fide Southern Baptist, an excellent preacher, and a visionary leader. As much or more than any of those reasons, however, I am motivated to follow his leadership because of the way he combines gospel conviction and Christian kindness. Regretfully, this sort of convictional kindness has not always been a trademark of conservative evangelical interaction in the public square. I recognize my own failure in this area over the years.

In his inaugural address on September 10th of this year, Moore said, “As we march forward into the days that are before us, the worst thing we can possibly do in changing times is to come with a sour and dour and gloomy pessimism about the culture around us. We cannot stand and speak, ‘You kids get off my lawn.’ The word that Jesus has given to His church is a word that is filled with optimism and joy.”

The time has come for the church to proclaim the kingdom of God not merely in terms of how the culture falls short of that ideal, but rather in terms of what that ideal actually looks like. Speaking of the ministry of Jesus, Moore continued, “The crowd would have loved to have heard Jesus rail against the culture of the Roman Empire. . . . But instead, what Jesus does is to turn and to show His hearers how they had themselves been conformed to the pattern of the age around them.”

This calls for a transformation of the church so that the church genuinely serves as a preview of Christ’s kingdom. “In order for God to bless us,” Moore said, “we must recognize and know that God is forming first and foremost colonies of the kingdom that are accountable to the word that says, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’” So the church must conform to Christ by submitting to his word and in so doing the church serves as a sort of window through which the world can see Christ and imagine his kingdom.

Moore addressed what “success” will look like in upcoming years, when he said, “The way we will see success is in congregations first and foremost, that start to look freakishly strange.” He went on to describe believers who, for example, respect human life even when the broader public does not and who go beyond advocating for social causes in order to embody those causes.

Our churches must go beyond moral engagement in order to facilitate gospel engagement. Moore continued, “We are ministers of reconciliation, which means that we will speak hard words, and we will speak truthful words, and we will address the conscience, even when that costs us everything. But we will never end there. We will always end with the word that our Lord Jesus has given to us, the invitation if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.”

In other words, God’s people must engage our society and culture with gospel witness that leads to moral reformation. The order must never be reversed or the church will have lost its message. “We will stand as good American citizens, and we will fight for justice, and we will fight . . . for all of those things that have been given to us, guaranteed by our Constitution as Americans. . . . But we will also remember that we are not Americans first. We belong to another kingdom. And we will stand and speak for that kingdom, recognizing that between now and then there are little congregations raising up little boys and girls to recognize what is permanent, what stands, what remains: a kingdom, a culture, a mission.”

Alongside of Dr. Moore’s comments, and in agreement with them, I wish to affirm that the Christian mission centers on God and the gospel and, as such, is comprehensive and multidirectional. As we worship God instead of idols (upward), we declare to our nation that God alone is worthy of worship. As we proclaim and promote the gospel through the church’s inner life (inward), we provoke our neighbors to jealousy so that they also will embrace the Savior. As we seek to live every aspect of our social and cultural life in accordance with God’s creational design (backward), we give our nation a glimpse of God’s original intentions for his world to be marked by universal peace, order, justice, and delight. As we proclaim and promote the gospel as a sign of his not-yet kingdom (forward), we give the nations a foretaste of the future banquet and a preview of the new heavens and earth.

As God’s people, we are a contrast community whose multi-directional gospel mission should give our nation a preview of Christ’s kingdom (positively) rather than merely declaring to our nation how far short it falls of that kingdom (negatively). Moore’s call for gospel witness and convictional kindness is one which we can and should heed.

Come here Dr. Russell Moore speak in chapel on December 3 at 10 a.m. Or, you may listen live at: http://www.sebts.edu/news-resources/livestream.aspx

The full text of Dr. Moore’s inaugural address can be found at: http://erlc.com/article/a-prophetic-minority-kingdom-culture-and-mission-in-a-new-era

 

 

Guest Post (Chuck Quarles): What Do Southern Baptists Believe about Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Salvation?

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What Do Southern Baptists Believe about Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility in Salvation?

Charles L. Quarles

Over the last several years, discussions about divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation have intensified in our Southern Baptist context. Labels like “Calvinist,” “Arminian,” and “semi-Pelagian” have been tossed around, often too freely, and this has brought more confusion than clarity to important doctrinal discussions in which we cannot afford to leave room for misunderstanding. I have always resisted these labels. My experience is that people define them in very different ways. My refusal to accept any of the above labels is not prompted by any desire to deceive others or to hide my views. I refuse to accept the labels simply because the issues are too important to leave room for being misunderstood by someone who is using a different “dictionary.”

I do proudly claim a few other monikers. Among them is the name “Baptist.” I am a Baptist both by heritage and by conviction. The label “Baptist” does not risk the misunderstanding generated by other labels because the label has been clearly defined in our great Baptist confessions. These great confessions directly address the thorny issues of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

I will discuss two of these confessions below. Before I do, I ask three things of every reader. First, do not read this brief essay as a reaction to any recent statements offered by others in the current debate. I actually wrote this document several years ago, but did not publish it because I did not want to be responsible in any way for stirring controversy. Now that the controversy is upon us in full force, I offer this statement with a hope that it may promote unity within the Southern Baptist brotherhood. Second, please forget any label you may have heard applied to me by others that I have not personally affirmed. Otherwise, you may assume that I mean something other than what I actually say. Third, read every statement that I make in this document in light of the document as a whole. Please resist any temptation to pull a statement out of context and interpret it a way that contradicts my other clear statements.

Will you honor these requests? Promise? Are you absolutely sure? O.K., then . . . .

For the last one hundred and seventy-five years, Baptists in the South have primarily relied on two written confessions to express their beliefs about the complicated subject of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. These confessions are the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 (slightly revised in 1853 and hereafter referred to as NHBC) and the Baptist Faith and Message that was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925 and revised in 1963 and again in 2000 (hereafter the BFM; quotations are from the 2000 revision). The NHBC is the mother of the BFM. The 1925 statement recommended that “the New Hampshire Confession of Faith, revised at certain points, and with some additional articles growing out of certain needs” be adopted by the Convention.  Much of the wording of the NHBC was copied directly into the BFM. In cases in which questions about the meaning of the BFM arise, the NHBC may serve as a helpful guide to the correct interpretation. Consequently, when the intent of the BFM is unclear, appeal will be made to the NHBC.

What do these important confessions reveal about the Baptist view of divine sovereignty and human responsibility?

First, Baptists believe that the lost sinner is responsible for his condemnation and that only he deserves the blame for it.

In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice. By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race. Through the temptation of Satan man transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original innocence whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin. Therefore, as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. Only the grace of God can bring man into His holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God. (BFM Art. III)

The BFM reiterated its affirmation of man’s free choice in article V by insisting that election is consistent “with the free agency of man.” The NHBC was even more explicit on this point. It insisted “that nothing prevents the salvation of the greatest sinner on earth except his own voluntary refusal to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ, which refusal will subject him to an aggravated condemnation” (Emphasis added). A view that portrays God as preventing those who want to repent and believe from doing so is clearly beyond the parameters of the BFM and NHBC. Although these confessions affirm divine sovereignty in salvation, they just as strongly affirm human freedom and responsibility.

The BFM and NHBC show that Southern Baptists over the last two centuries have affirmed that in some mysterious way God is completely sovereign and humans are fully responsible creatures. We affirm both divine sovereignty and human responsibility because the Bible clearly teaches both. We may not be able to reconcile logically these two affirmations, but we seek to hold them in a proper biblical balance.

Second, Baptists believe that God is the cause of our salvation from beginning to end and that only He deserves glory for it.

The BFM affirms three important truths about divine election. Let’s begin to unpack these.

A. The BFM insists that divine election is “gracious.” This means that election is an undeserved gift. We did nothing to earn it or to qualify for it.

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. (BFM Art. V)

God chose us for salvation, not because of any good in us, but solely because of His great mercy and grace. This is implied both by the description of election as “gracious” and by the description of election as “unchangeable.” If election were dependent on human actions, a person would become elect after he met certain qualifications. The unchangeable nature of election demonstrates that it is grounded in the unchanging will of God rather than the actions of fickle human beings.

The BFM also portrays election as effective and unfailing. Notice that God actually regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners “according to” his gracious purpose in election. The grammar of the confession implies that the purpose of God in election will come to fulfillment. The statement that election “comprehends all the means in connection with the end” shows that God graciously grants to the sinner all that is necessary to fulfill His gracious purpose in election.

B. God granted us repentance from sin and faith in Christ as gracious gifts.

Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace. (BFM Art. IV)

Baptists regard repentance and faith as requirements for saving grace. This is clear from the earlier statements in Article IV of the BFM that salvation “is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour” and “There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.” God requires sinners to repent and believe in order to receive His gracious forgiveness. But Baptists also regard repentance and faith as “experiences of God’s grace.” By describing repentance and faith as “experiences of grace,” the BFM clearly teaches that we did not repent and believe because we were better than someone else or smarter than someone else. Repentance and faith were gifts that God graciously granted to us. God expressed his grace by opening our blind eyes, unstopping our deaf ears, softening our hard hearts, and enlightening our darkened minds. The BFM affirmed this earlier in the statement “Through illumination, he [the Holy Spirit] enables men to understand truth” (II.C.). This divine enabling is necessary in order for the sinner to understand and believe the gospel.

The BFM emphasizes that obedience to the gospel is voluntary by defining regeneration as “a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus repentance and faith are legitimately described as experiences of God’s grace to the sinner and the sinner’s response to God’s gracious work. According to His eternal gracious purpose, God imparts repentance and faith to the sinner, but He does so in a way that is “consistent with the free agency of man” (BFM Art. V). The NHBC asserts that God grants “a holy disposition to the mind. . . . by the power of the Holy Spirit, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel.” God secures our obedience to the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit and yet the sinner’s obedience to the gospel remains “voluntary.” Man’s freedom of choice remains intact even as God fulfills His unchangeable purpose.

How God accomplishes this remains “above our comprehension or calculation” (NHBC Art. VII). The confession teaches that God’s activity is a mystery and we do not have the capacity to figure it all out. The sooner that we admit that, the better.

C. Because salvation is God’s work for us and in us, we cannot pat ourselves on the back or congratulate ourselves for being saved.

Salvation is to the praise of the glory of His grace.

The BFM insists that election is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility. (BFM Art. V) Divine election humbles us by reminding us that God is the author of our salvation. He accomplished it. We are unworthy and undeserving recipients of God’s goodness that is on glorious display in election.

Third, Baptists believe that this understanding of divine sovereignty and human responsibility encourages rather than thwarts missions and evangelism.

 It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means the birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly and repeatedly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ. (BFM Art. XI)

Twice the confession describes evangelism as a duty demanded by Christ’s command to his disciples. However, it insists that evangelism is also a privilege, for it is the believer’s honor and joy to speak of the Savior. One should not overlook a third motivation for evangelism—Christian love. The confession teaches that the new birth imparts to the believer deep, sincere love for others. Since there is no hope for salvation apart from the gospel, nothing could be more unloving than hiding and hoarding the gospel from the lost. And there can be no greater display of compassion for others than expressing concern for an eternal soul by boldly sharing the gospel.

The NHBC said that a proper understanding of election “encourages the use of means in the highest degree.” Although the elect will be regenerated, justified, sanctified, and glorified, these ends will not be achieved apart from the preaching of the gospel. A view of election that sees missions and evangelism as unnecessary or that dampens missionary passion and evangelistic fervor is inconsistent with the Baptist view of election. Baptist history gives many examples of the consistency of a strong view of election with an equally strong commitment to proclaim the gospel. Our greatest Baptist missionaries and preachers, figures like William Carey, Charles H. Spurgeon, Lottie Moon, and Joseph Willis affirmed the doctrine of election and devoted their lives to proclaiming the glories of God’s grace. Would to God that every Baptist joined their ranks!

The views expressed in the Baptist Faith and Message have a strong biblical basis. Unfortunately, the limitations of this article do not permit discussion of this rich biblical foundation. Every reader would profit by getting a copy of the document and looking up the many Bible passages that support each article. The confession is a very accurate expression of many of the important truths of the God-breathed word.

The Baptist Faith and Message provides helpful parameters on this issue for Baptist institutions. However, we should honor and seek to protect the right of those in the Baptist family to hold differences of opinion that may coexist within these parameters. I pray that the same love imparted to the believer through the new birth that compels us to show compassion to the lost would likewise move us to show compassion to those brothers and sisters who differ from us on the intricacies of these mysterious and glorious doctrines.

The Sinner’s Prayer, David Platt and the SBC

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Most folks who know me know of my close friendship with David Platt. I am grateful for how God has raised David up for this time and this generation. Our friendship is not surprising given our mutual passion to see the name of Jesus made famous among the nations. And, when you consider my son Paul serves as a missions pastor and elder at The Church at Brook Hills, David preaches at SEBTS annually, we are editing together with Tony Merida a 40 volume preaching commentary, and SEBTS is partnering with CBH in EQUIP, where our seminary works with local churches in doing theological education (we are now partnering with more than 100!), this friendship has been a natural and wonderful working out of God’s providence. The fact that we agree so much about preaching and theology hasn’t hurt either! I love this brother and thank God for him.

Recently David caused quite a stir with a comment he made concerning the “sinner’s prayer.” His use of the word “superstitious,” no doubt, caused the greatest concern. While I think David could have chosen a better word that would have avoided a visceral reaction on the part of some, I too share his concern about poor gospel presentations, manipulation and false professions of faith that have resulted in our churches being filled with unregenerate members. Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I want it to be known that I shepherded all of my sons in praying a “sinner’s prayer” as an expression of the work of God in their hearts as they repented of their sin and placed their trust in Christ alone for salvation. I have also preached more than a dozen graduation messages and in each and every one I have shared the gospel, invited people to receive Christ, and even helped them as they surrender their lives to Christ by leading them in a “sinner’s prayer.” I have done this many more times when preaching, as well. Handled carefully and wisely, I gladly invite people to repent of sin, trust in Christ, and surrender their lives to Him. David and I, I am quite certain, are in 100% agreement with one another on the issue.

David spoke again to this issue when he preached at the Pastors Conference at the SBC. I gladly commend his message to you, and you can find the manuscript of that sermon here. Also at the SBC, the messengers passed, overwhelmingly, a resolution on a “sinner’s prayer.” Both David and I gladly voted for the resolution, and you can find David’s comments on that resolution and the entire issue here. I again commend and affirm David’s comments, and appreciate both the clarity and charity he brings to the conversation.

In the days ahead I hope and pray Southern Baptists can model genuine Christlikeness as we talk about important issues like this one. Wild exaggerations and misrepresentations must be avoided. To say I am against the “sinner’s prayer” because everyone in my town has prayed it and our churches are filled with lost people is irresponsible and does not help. On the other hand, to say that Calvinists do not want to use the “sinner’s prayer” because they fear leading someone who is non-elect to pray a prayer that is hopeless is equally irresponsible. Let’s all of us be better than this. Let the “Golden Rule” be your guide, and represent others as you, yourself, would want to be represented. This will build us up and not tear us down. And, it will show so many who are watching us closely the difference Jesus makes even when brothers and sisters may see things differently. It is a good thing for fellow believers to talk to one another when we “seek the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Let’s work hard to ensure this good thing!