Over at Challies blog, you can read summaries of each of the sessions of the John 3:16 conference by guest blogger Andrew Lindsey. So far summaries are available for Johnny Hunt’s opening message, Jerry Vine’s sermon on John 3:16, Paige Patterson’s message on Total Depravity, and an interesting post about the attendance and mood of the conference.
If you haven’t heard, here is what the John 3:16 Conference is all about:
Sponsored by Jerry Vines Ministries, the conference allows some of the Southern Baptists Convention’s foremost pastors to respond to the growing presence of Calvinistic theology in the Convention. “Did Jesus die on the cross for every person? Are believers eternally secure? Can grace be resisted? These and many other questions will be addressed. This conference is not going to be a ‘Let’s bash the Calvinists’ conference. This conference is going to be a biblical and theological assessment of and response to 5-point Calvinism. It will be helpful for lay people as well as preachers.”
Calvinism is certainly growing in the SBC today. Read these posts to get a feel for what is going on right now in the convention–to see what people are concerned about theologically. I would caution you to read these summaries, as you would anything else, with discernment.
I particularly encourage you to read the summary of Dr. Vines’ sermon with discernment because he discusses a number of Greek words and if you do not know Greek, you might think that some of his arguments deal substantial blows to Calvinism. I feel I can address Vines’ message because he preached essentially the same message at SBTS Chapel which I have listened to. For instance, Vines makes some very important points for his case based on some very common Greek words like pas (which means “each, every, or all”). But then he only cites two uses of the word pas to show how it must always mean “all” without qualification. That is sloppy Greek because pas is one of the most common words in the Greek New Testament. So to make such an argument convincingly, you would have to show me more than just two instances in the NT.
Vines did not make any attempt to address the more common Calvinistic understanding of John 3:16–that the reference to the “world” refers to God’s purpose for the nations–that God will gather to himself a people from every tribe tongue and nation (c.f. John 10:49-52; Rev. 5:9-10–also by the apostle John). Instead he apparently just pointed out that some “extreme Calvinists” believe that “world” refers only to the “world of the elect.” Also I find it interesting that Vines seems to indicate that it is up to man’s will as to whether he believes and is saved and yet he never deals with the preceding context of John 3 in which Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to enter the kingdom, one must be born again–born of the spirit and not of flesh (John 3:1-9). Let’s ask some very Vines-like questions–does this new birth precede our entering into the Kingdom? You see the new birth comes then one is granted entrance into the kingdom!
Vines said at one point that he builds his systematic theology off of exegesis of the text. I have heard Vines say things like this before and he says them to criticize Calvinists who supposedly start with systematics and then throw in some exegesis. Interestingly enough, I have never met these Calvinists who build their Systematic theology before doing any exegesis. Someone who builds their systematic theology apart from biblical exegesis is not necessarily a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist, someone who does that is just a bad theologian. Vines said that when he is preaching from one place in Scripture that people will say, “Vines is a Calvinist,” and when preaching from another passage of Scripture, people will say “Vines is an Arminian.” There is something wrong with this kind of thinking. What if Vines text was Ephesians 1:1-10? Or Romans 9? Or Matthew 11:25-27? Or John 10:11-30? Or Acts 13:48? Or 2 Timothy 1:8-12?
You get the point. Calvinism and Arminianism are not compatible at significant points. You can’t be a “Calvinist” while in Ephesians 1 and an “Arminian” while in John 3:16 unless Scripture is contradictory or beyond our comprehension. I don’t believe either. I believe all Scripture is inspired by God for our good (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and its essential meaning is plain. I think the reason that we often have a hard time with Scripture is not because it is unclear but we are all sinful by nature and our sin has corrupted our understanding.
So here is my point: a Calvinist could preach a sermon on Ephesians 1:1-10 or John 10:11-30 defending unconditional election and limited atonement and Vines sermon on John 3:16 would provide no grounds for objecting to the Calvinists sermon other than potentially serving to cause people to question whether the Bible is contradictory! (As a side note–I don’t get all riled up about defending limited atonement by the way–I would gladly and honestly tell any and every lost person that Christ paid the penalty of their sin if they will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ).
That was more than I should have said. I just wanted to point out what I feel is an unfair criticism leveled at Calvinists and what could lead to unhelpful understanding of the Bible as a whole. I greatly respect all the men involved in the John 3:16 conference, from what I know about them, I believe them to be men of God who love Jesus and want to make Him known! I rejoice that we are of like mind and heart in that endeavor.
I, for one, am not upset that this conference is taking place–if they are really setting out to do what they claim to be doing, then I commend them for it. I am glad that our convention is attempting to take theology seriously. Other denominations are discussing whether or not they will have gay pastors or whether or not they believe in penal substitutionary atonement–I am glad that my denomination is discussing the things of God, even if its in a way that I might find suspect at points.
***UPDATE*** Wade Burleson has also posted a worthwhile summary of the first three sessions of the John 3:16 Conference. Thank you Pastor Burleson for making this important point:
If there is one thing I felt Dr. Vines sought to emphasize, it was that the word “whosoever” in the Greek is the Greek word ‘pas’ which is used 1228 times in the New Testament, and it means “anyone, anywhere, anytime.” It includes “the whole and every part of” the world. Again, I have never met a Calvinist who would disagree [emphasis mine]. The “whosoever” of John 3:16 is modified by “believes,” and “anyone, anywhere, anytime” who believes in Christ has eternal life. The million dollar question is “what causes a man to believe?” The third and final speaker of the night sought to answer that question.