I‘ve been a Baptist my whole life. I’ve also been a Southern Baptist—meaning that the churches that I’ve been a member of (3) and pastored have all been associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Each year at the annual SBC meeting, the pastors’ conference is held in conjunction with the business meeting. Through the years as I’ve attended the conference, I’ve had moments of great encouragement and I’ve likewise experienced moments of great frustration. Why? As a pastor, I see the value of modeling a proper way of biblical preaching in conference settings—and that has not always happened at the annual meeting.
This year was different. The conference president and his team decided to invite lesser known pastors of smaller churches who would all work together over the two day meeting to preach through the book of Philippians. While their decision was met with great doubt, the meeting was profitable on many levels—and at the top was the desire to model expository preaching.
The Word—Not the Man
Outside of a couple of speakers at the conference, I had no previous knowledge of the men and their ministries. At times, we are made to believe that unless a celebrity is speaking (especially in a conference setting), the takeaway will not be as good. That is not true. The point of the conference should be to take-in the Word of God rather than the personality of the speaker. Too often we attend conferences for the personality of the speaker rather than the Word of God. We need the Word far more than the personality, the celebrity, and all that comes with the more well known speaker.
Expository Preaching Modeled
Years ago, the SBC leaders and churches found themselves in a massive battle over the Bible. The main issue was biblical inerrancy. What emerged from that particular era was a profound commitment to the Word of God. Expository preaching became the focus of professors at the seminary level and this model has greatly helped the Baptist churches and seminaries of the SBC. In his excellent book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever explains:
Expositional preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of Scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. That’s it. The preacher opens the Word and unfolds it for the people of God. 
Mark Dever is a Southern Baptist pastor. He and others continue to point out the importance of biblical preaching, but year-after-year the pastors’ conference continues to model something other than biblical preaching. In order to be good stewards of a conference ministry, it’s essential to model biblical preaching to those who will be in attendance. Rather than church growth seminar talks and a variety of topical sermons—a conference aimed at glorifying God through expository preaching is refreshing. When you have seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention who major on expository preaching in their preaching classes and you have an annual meeting that majors on topical preaching—somewhere there’s a disconnect.
I attended the conference in person this year in Phoenix. I learned. I am grateful for the efforts of the conference organizers and we should strive to make the Word of God and proper preaching the main point of such events. My parents once taught me a valuable lesson about diet by saying, “Garbage in—garbage out.” If we model poor sermons at the annual pastors’ conference of the SBC, we can expect pulpits across the nation to reflect that same approach to the pulpit.
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 26.
This past week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention held their national conference in Nashville, Tennessee. One evening during the conference, Russell Moore, the president of the ERLC (my former professor at SBTS), sat down with Andy Stanley for a conversation about church, culture, and leadership. Andy Stanley serves as the pastor of Atlanta’s North Point Community Church. Within that conversation, Russell Moore asked the following question:
If you were, for real, the evangelical pope and you really had the authority to say ‘”this is how it’s gonna be within American evangelical Christianity,” what would you do?
Stanley responded by saying, “I would ask preachers and pastors and student pastors in their communications to get the spotlight off the Bible and back on the resurrection.” That statement may not seem earth shaking to many, but it deserves attention. In fact, it demands attention. As I begin, I should be clear that I’m not intending this article to be a personal attack upon Andy Stanley, but his public remarks deserve a public response.
Is It Possible to Arrive at the Empty Tomb Without a Bible?
In the conversation, Moore and Stanley did not agree on everything. In fact, they didn’t agree on many important things. When explaining his approach, Stanley said:
To have a discussion around the Resurrection is a much easier discussion than trying to defend the whole Bible. That’s my point. It’s not a lack of confidence in the Scripture, it’s an approach, again, based on culture and some cultural assumptions.
It became apparent that Andy Stanley, although serving as a pastor, spends much of his time formulating his message to unbelievers. What about the church? How must those who are already saved be discipled each week during the preaching and teaching of the Bible?
In a day where theological liberalism is celebrated, there must be a way to give an answer for the faith. If we must provide an answer for our faith to skeptics, what direction should we move if the Bible is insufficient? Is it possible to prove the resurrection of Christ without going to the Bible? Is there a video on YouTube that’s sufficient? Is there an mp3 of Paul thundering away in a sermon about the resurrected Jesus who changed him on the Damascus road? The fact is, no other valid evidence exists apart from the testimony of Scripture. In fact, Andy Stanley and all other Jesus followers had to come to the knowledge of the resurrection of Christ through the pages of the Bible.
We Must Spotlight the Bible
Just before Christmas in 2014, an article by Kurt Eichenwald was published in Newsweek magazine that stated the following:
No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times. 
No person can be saved by placing their faith in the Bible. However, it must be emphasized that no person will ever experience genuine faith in Jesus Christ apart from the knowledge of God that comes from the Bible. The Bible is God’s intended means of revelation to fallen sinners. All of the latest technological gadgets, websites, blogs, smart phones, tablets, and more can only serve as tools to communicate the good news of Jesus to broken sinners. The good news of Jesus is revealed to us in a book —the Bible.
There is no such thing as Bible-less Christianity. The earliest picture we have of the church immediately after the resurrection of Jesus is found in Acts. At the end of the second chapter, we see the early church gathered together under the apostle’s teaching (Acts 2:42). What were they teaching? Was it the resurrection of Jesus every sermon? The point is, the resurrection is essential and it’s the centerpiece of the entire Word of God, but every sermon can’t be about the resurrection of Jesus unless we want to build superficial churches.
When healthy emphasis is placed on the Bible, theological fruit emerges in the form of Christian intellectualism, missions, church planting, Christian education, and a proper response to a dying culture. A deemphasis of the Bible will lead to superficial churches, theological liberalism, cultural chaos, post-post modernism, and a host of other tributaries that feed off of that main stream. The false idea that we must focus on the resurrection apart from the Bible simply doesn’t work.
When leaving Ephesus, Paul didn’t gather the elders together to say, “Men, remain steadfast in the faith. The wolves will come in and attack, but I want you all to remember that I’ve been faithful to teach you the resurrection of Christ.” No, he said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). When Paul was preparing Timothy to pastor the church in Ephesus (a very dark city), he said, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1). If the Word of God was sufficient to reach unbelievers in Paul’s day, can we have that same confidence for ministry today?
When we survey church history, we see the Reformers emerging from the shadows with the Bible in their hands. They placed a bright light upon the Word of God. The battlecry of the Reformation was sola Scriptura. That era of Christian history was marked by an unwavering commitment to the veracity, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. What if William Tyndale could join Andy Stanley for a roundtable discussion about the Bible? What would emerge from that conversation? How would Tyndale respond to Stanley? That conversation will have to wait, but we must have a conversation about the Bible in our present day. We need to go far beyond what Michael Green once called “the age of the sermonette,” because the sermonette, as Green stated, “makes Christianettes.” 
When our children leave our church campuses and find themselves sitting in a college classroom listening to their college professor relentlessly attack the reliability of the Bible, they must be able to give an answer. When people who have been discipled in the community of our churches face attacks from men like Kurt Eichenwald or Bart Ehrman, they need more than a Bible verse about the resurrection of Jesus to stand upon. What happens when a theological liberal challenges them on Paul’s teaching about human sexuality? Will a robust message about the resurrection of Christ be sufficient in that hour?
We are guilty of creating functional atheism when we distance ourselves from the authority and reliability of God’s Word. The church needs tools that have been well established from the full counsel of God’s Word. A deemphasis of the Bible is the wrong direction for the evangelical church. A deemphasis of the Bible is a dangerous method of ministry. Mark Dever, in his excellent book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church provides a helpful reminder:
God’s Holy Spirit creates His people by His Word. We can create a people by other means, and this is the great temptation of churches. We can create a people around a certain ethnicity. We can create a people around a fully-graded choir program. We can find people who will get excited about a building project or a denominational identity. We can create a people around a series of care groups, where each feels loved and cared for. We can create a people around a community service project. We can create a people around social opportunities for young mothers or Caribbean cruises for singles. We can create a people around men’s groups. We can even create a people around the personality of a preacher. And God can surely use all of these things. But in the final analysis the people of God, the church of God, can only be created around the Word of God. 
- Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Newsweek, December 23, 2014.
- Taken from the editor’s preface to John R. W. Stott, Between Two Worlds (Eerdmans, 1982), 7.
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, (Crossway, 2000), 36.
As I traveled to the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in New Orleans, I was focused on the wrong thing! I was thinking about controversial issues, groups who were drawing a line in the sand on specific doctrines, and the debate related to these issues had been weighing on my mind and heart for a while. Although there is a time and place for debate on doctrinal issues, and the SBC is a fine platform for it, I had failed to have true joy in the process as I was leading up to the annual meeting. I had allowed my own personal heart to be plagued with these issues and it distracted me from the real purpose, aim, and goal of the SBC which is missions!
Although some good spirited discussion took place on some necessary items, as a whole, the leaders of the SBC did a great job of keeping a spirit of unity (even among people who don’t agree on every issue). As I was singing, worshipping, listening to the preaching, fellowshipping with friends, and voting – the Lord helped me realize that we gather together as the SBC for the purpose of missions. That borad category includes education, local, national, and international advancement of the gospel of Christ – and for that purpose we pool our money together and give of our time to accomplish these major goals.
As I listened to the heart of gifted leaders, I was reminded of the need to pursue unity and seek to work together in order to send the gospel to a dying world who needs to hear of the saving message of King Jesus. Below are some of the things that I take away from the SBC in 2012 with great encouragement:
1. The election of Pastor Fred Luter as the 1st black man in the history of the SBC to serve as President of the SBC.
2. The commitment of many SBC pastors and churches to plant churches and engage unreached people groups.
3. Pursuit of unity on the gospel (even among those who don’t always agree on everything).
4. Fresh reminder of God’s supernatural miracle of the Conservative Resurgence of the SBC that started in New Orleans at Cafe’ Du Monde 45 years ago.
5. The adoption of the name descriptor of the SBC as “Great Commission Baptists.”
As I sat in the convention hall and listened to Tom Elliff give the report of the International Mission Board, I continued to hear statistics of the massive numbers that have yet to hear the gospel. As I sat there listening to him speak, I thought about the schemes of the Devil. If the Devil can get the SBC to fight one another rather than working together to reach the nations with the gospel, we will eventually split, splinter, and become weak and powerless in the fight of faith. However, if we focus on the Lord and partner together for the sake of the gospel – we can impact the world and reach the unreached people groups with the life changing message of King Jesus.
I thought about that even further as I rode home in our church van filled with messengers from our church. That same concept is true on a local church level. If the Devil can cause us to become distracted and our vision out of focus because of non-essential issues – it will cause our local church to become weak and powerless against his schemes. I want to see God’s hand of blessing on the SBC in the days to come and our local churches as a whole in order for us to take the gospel of Christ to our neighborhoods and to the nations – all for the glory of God.
May God spare us from fights that divide! May God cause our arguments and debates to be handled with a spirit of love and end with greater unity rather than disunity. May we realize that there will always be family debates, but those debates should not divide unless they cross the line into an area of essential belief for the Christian faith.
May God smile upon the Southern Baptist Convention (aka – Great Commission Baptists) and use us to impact the world! I’m thankful that the Lord rekindled a heart of cooperation and refocused my mind on the big picture of missions rather than the distractions that often take our focus off of the main objective and goal of the SBC.
Pastor Josh Buice
Recently, a controversy erupted when Dr. Eric Hankins of First Baptist Church in Oxford Mississippi introduced a doctrinal statement that he claims is the “traditional” position of Southern Baptists on soteriology (doctrine of salvation). From blogs to Twitter, the social media world has been consumed by debate (both good and bad examples can be provided) over this issue.
If you are a regular reader to this blog, you have perhaps already read the two previous blog entries related to the document titled, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” which was officially published on SBCToday.com on May 30th 2012. I responded to the article in general here: (A Response to “A Statement of Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” – The Religious Version of the Hatfields & McCoys) and then I posted an open letter to Dr. Jerry Vines here: (A Response to Dr. Jerry Vines). Below you will see why I can’t, as an SBC member and pastor, sign the document drafted by Dr. Eric Hankins. Although the reasons below are not intended to be exhaustive, they are intended to provide substantial reasons that should be considered by anyone who is planning to sign the document.
Reason #1 – It Contradicts “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology
While the title uses the phrase “traditional” someone should ask what is intended by the word tradition. How far should we go back regarding our traditional understanding of SBC soteriology? As Tom Nettles explains in his book, By His Grace and For His Glory, the SBC has a rich history of Calvinism (Doctrines of Grace, Reformed doctrine, or sovereign grace – whatever title you would prefer). Many people such as Lottie Moon, W.A. Criswell, John Broadus, James P. Boyce, A.T. Robertson, and a long list of SBC leaders embraced the Doctrines of Grace. Therefore, any doctrinal statement on soteriology that would exclude members such as W.A. Criswell and Lottie Moon is one that should cause us to pause and think seriously before signing our name to it.
The Preamble to the statement states:
We propose that what most Southern Baptists believe about salvation can rightly be called “Traditional” Southern Baptist soteriology, which should be understood in distinction to “Calvinist” soteriology.
In other words, the statement insists that “traditional” soteriology and “Calvinistic” soteriology are not the same. While we can point out the obvious generalizations of the BF&M, can we claim that Calvinism violates the official statement of the SBC? If so, certain members of the BF&M 2000 committee such as Dr. Albert Mohler could not have participated in the work and signed the document. The fact is, that’s not an accurate assessment of historic SBC soteriology. In all reality, the traditional statement of the SBC (including the BF&M) leans more to the Calvinistic view and the “new” doctrinal influences have been proposed by those who are less Calvinistic. Perhaps the statement should have been titled “A Statement of the New Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”
Reason #2 – It Contradicts Key Doctrines of the Faith and the BF&M 2000
The Doctrine of Man – BF&M 2000 (Article III)
In the statement by the BF&M 2000, the language of freedom and inheritance of sin from Adam is abundantly clear. Notice the following statement contained within Article III:
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.
- Man was originally created by God with absolute freedom to make choices between right and wrong.
- Man inherited a nature from Adam (after the fall) that clearly violates the original freedom that Adam and Eve once enjoyed. Hence the langage of “bondage of the will” throughout church and Baptist history.
Article II: The Sinfulness of Man (taken from “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation“)
In the statement drafted by Dr. Eric Hankins, the following language is used to deny the inherited sin nature of Adam:
We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will or rendered any person guilty before he has personally sinned. While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.
- While we agree that no person can be saved apart from the drawing of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, this statement is clearly in conflict with the BF&M on the issue of the inherited sin nature of Adam.
- Furthermore, this statement is in clear violation of a more important doctrinal statement found in John 1:12-13 and Romans 5:12. John 1:12-13 makes it abundantly clear that we are not saved based on our free choice. We must be rescued from our sin and that is the goal of John’s Gospel – to point to Jesus as the Son of the Living God – the Savior of the world – the only One who can set us free (John 8:32, 36; 14:6). In Romans 5:12, Paul points out that Adam caused sin to enter the entire human race resulting in our guilt and judgment by God.
Article VIII: The Free Will of Man (taken from “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation“)
In the statement drafted by Dr. Eric Hankins, the following affirmation is made:
We affirm that God, as an expression of His sovereignty, endows each person with actual free will (the ability to choose between two options), which must be exercised in accepting or rejecting God’s gracious call to salvation by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
- The way this statement is crafted is the cause of so many accusations of semi-Pelagianism. Is man born with absolute freedom to choose to obey God? Is that possible? The answer for the Arminian is – absolutely not! The answer for the Calvinist is – absolutely not! The Arminian teaches that man is made free by prevenient grace and then man is able to make a choice to obey God. The Calvinist argues that man is never free and always in bondage to sin until God “quickens” him (makes him alive – language from Ephesians 2) and at that very moment – the sinner will respond by repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation. The semi-Pelagian teaches that man is capable of this from birth and God isn’t involved in the process of man’s ultimate free choice.
- This statement is in clear violation of Ephesians 2, John 1:12-13, John 6:44, and many other passages of Scripture that demonstrate the reality that God must intervene in the sinner’s life in order to set him free from the condemnation and bondage of sin.
Reason #3 – It Creates Controversy
Timing of the Document
It should be noted that this entire statement of “traditional” salvation has been in the works behind the scene for many weeks and months leading up to the SBC 2012. Rather than discussing this in August or September, this has been released just in time for the SBC annual meeting with a very calculated agenda. Rather than looking forward to this historic SBC gathering and preparing to work together with other SBC pastors for the purpose of missions, many people are packing their luggage for the trip with hurting hearts based on caricatures that are not accurate! This statement has created unmerited and aggressive harm on many brothers and sisters in Christ.
Purpose of the Document?
Although it has been asked many times during the open discussion of the blogs, to my knowledge, not many SBC leaders are willing to address the overarching purpose of this statement? It that because they don’t want to go on record in describing the agenda of this statement? The purpose of this statement may seem “pure” to some, but to many others it has the aroma of division, aggression, and loose theological definitions. Better scholarship is needed along with a pursuit of unity and love. This statement doesn’t possess those characteristics and that is one more reason that I cannot sign it in good faith. While many anti-Calvinists claim that there is a spirit of aggression among the “new Calvinists” in the SBC, I honestly don’t see it. What I see is a far greater anti-Calvinism aggression within the SBC. Is that the purpose of this doctrinal statement? Is the purpose to cleanse the SBC of those who embrace a sovereign grace position?
Reason #4 – History Speaks
While the biblical record stands head and shoulders above all other reasons that prevent my signature on this document, history speaks with power. All through history, we see people who were used in a powerful way by God – and they had heavy Calvinistic doctrine. John Newton (the author of “Amazing Grace,” Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, and many more. Many of our great heroes of the faith were open Calvinists and were used in a mighty way within the SBC. Consider W.A. Criswell who was instrumental in the Conservative Resurgence, but said that he was not ashamed to be called a Calvinist. The following statement was taken from a sermon W.A. Criswell preached titled, “The Doctrine of Predestination.” It can be found here (http://www.wacriswell.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/Search.Transcripts/sermon/1821.cfm).
For I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure: Calling unto the ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth My counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
That’s our God! Now that’s what you call foreordination. That’s what you call predestination! That’s Calvinism! And I am a Calvinist. That’s good old Bible doctrine, and I believe the Bible! These things are in God’s hands, and ultimately and finally, He purposed it and executeth all of it!
What the SBC 2012 needs is unity that will allow us to partner together so that we can impact our neighborhoods and the nations with the gospel that saves. If the leadership of the SBC fosters a fight among brothers over non-essentials such as Calvinism – it will hurt the SBC greatly. Many people will leave the SBC and it will cause us to become smaller and weaker in our mission efforts. This ax grinding agenda will not be contained at a national level of the SBC. Instead, it will flow out into the churches and it will cause churches to split and pastors to be marginalized and even fired as a result. The end result will not only be deep wounds suffered by families and churches over this issue. The end result will not be a smaller and weaker SBC where SBC employees have lost their jobs. The end result will be Satan’s laughter ringing like a hound dog from hell as millions of SBC brothers and sisters wage war on one another rather than flooding the streets and the nations with the message of Christ.
We must learn to love one another, work with one another, and glorify Christ – even when we don’t always agree on every “jot and tittle” of non-essentials. A divided SBC will not glorify God. People who embrace Calvinism and view God’s saving purposes from that lens are not the enemy. Furthermore, true hyper-Calvinists have no desire to partner with the SBC for missions – they see it as a waste of time, energy, and money. Let’s get real on this issue before too many others walk away from us with their time, energy, and money!
May God heal hearts and create a spirit of unity – for His glory alone!
Pastor Josh Buice
“Some portions of the statement actually go beyond Arminianism and appear to affirm semi-Pelagian understandings of sin, human nature, and the human will — understandings that virtually all Southern Baptists have denied.” Click here for the full article.
Tom Ascol is doing a series of blog posts in response to the statement on soteriology in the SBC titled, “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.” View his series here.