Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Coming Republican Suicide

Heresies and Other Truths
by Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

I'm bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it. But they need those votes!

So it has been for the Grand Old Party since the 1980s or so, as it has become increasingly beholden to an element that used to be relegated to wooden crates on street corners.

Short break as writer ties blindfold and smokes her last cigarette.

Which is to say, the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.

Here's the deal, 'pubbies: Howard Dean was right.

It isn't that culture doesn't matter. It does. But preaching to the choir produces no converts. And shifting demographics suggest that the Republican Party -- and conservatism with it -- eventually will die out unless religion is returned to the privacy of one's heart where it belongs.

Religious conservatives become defensive at any suggestion that they've had something to do with the GOP's erosion. And, though the recent Democratic sweep can be attributed in large part to a referendum on Bush and the failing economy, three long-term trends identified by Emory University's Alan Abramowitz have been devastating to the Republican Party: increasing racial diversity, declining marriage rates and changes in religious beliefs.

Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is largely comprised of white, married Christians. Anyone watching the two conventions last summer can't have missed the stark differences: One party was brimming with energy, youth and diversity; the other felt like an annual Depends sales meeting.

With the exception of Miss Alaska, of course.

Even Sarah Palin has blamed Bush policies for the GOP loss. She's not entirely wrong, but she's also part of the problem. Her recent conjecture about whether to run for president in 2012 (does anyone really doubt she will?) speaks for itself:

"I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is. ... And if there is an open door in (20)12 or four years later, and if it's something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door."

Let's do pray that God shows Alaska's governor the door.

Meanwhile, it isn't necessary to evict the Creator from the public square, surrender Judeo-Christian values or diminish the value of faith in America. Belief in something greater than oneself has much to recommend it, including most of the world's architectural treasures, our universities and even our founding documents.

But, like it or not, we are a diverse nation, no longer predominantly white and Christian. The change Barack Obama promised has already occurred, which is why he won.

Among Jewish voters, 78 percent went for Obama. Sixty-six percent of under-30 voters did likewise. Forty-five percent of voters ages 18-29 are Democrats compared to just 26 percent Republican; in 2000, party affiliation was split almost evenly.

The young will get older, of course. Most eventually will marry, and some will become their parents. But nonwhites won't get whiter. And the nonreligious won't get religion through external conversion. It doesn't work that way.

Given those facts, the future of the GOP looks dim and dimmer if it stays the present course. Either the Republican Party needs a new base -- or the nation may need a new party.


I think Kathleen Parker should keep it up. No, really! Cal Thomas too! David Brooks, all those "Conservative intelligensia" that write so eloquently from within the Beltway -- or at least from wannabes who wish they rated that.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan united the "old gaurd" Conservatives previously represented by William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater in his younger years, and the newly emergent "Moral Majority" -- predominantly Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians, and not a few blue collar Catholics -- who brought concerns for social issues such as abortion, the homosexual agenda, prayer in schools, and so forth. The "old gaurd" generally were blue bloods and traditional Republican types -- anti-communist, pro free trade, leaning toward libertarianism on some social issues. The Moral Majority was also anti-communist, pro-American, but were mostly blue collar suburbanites who wanted to see God represented again in a Government that had happily left Him out of the process for decades.

The formula was a winner for Ronald Reagan. Since Ronald Reagan, the angst and internal conflict between the "old guard" and the "moral majority" have steadily increased. With the exception of 1994, when Republicans recaptured the Legislative branch for the first time in 40 years as the foils of Bill Clinton, the emergence of the modern Conservative Movement has been slowly regressing.

The regression from victory to exile in the American political wilderness has come about for several reasons. Among the most important are the changing threats faced by the United States, the relentless campaign in popular entertainment and the mainstream media to advance secularism and to marginalize (or demonize) religion in general and Christianity in particular, and the seething hatred of many of the blue-bloods among Republicans for the poor, stupid bumpkins and Bible-thumpers they wish they'd never allied themselves with to win elections. Add to that a more than generous portion of Evangelical self-loathers who wish to return their faith the the quiet days following the Scopes Monkey Trial (to the joy of the blue-blooders) and you have the circumstances Conservatives find themselves in today. Defeat. Retreat.

When Ronald Reagan built his Conservative Coalition, The Communist threat posed by the Soviet Union was at its greatest apex in three decades, having captured several nations in Central and South America, Africa and Asia in just the previous four years. The Reds were encroaching upon our territory, too close to out borders, threatening our friends and interests. This motivated both the blue bloods interested in advancing business and economic interests, and those concerned with advancing the Christian faith in other areas of the world.

Now, consider popular media. Remember when an episode of Welcome Back Kotter was almost banned in the 70’s – and warnings were broadcast at each commercial break – due to “mature content?” The content? A girl in Kotter’s class claimed that one of the “Sweathogs” got her pregnant. Turns out, no one did anything with anyone in the storyline. Remember when NYPD Blue debuted in the 1990’s? The vulgar language and bare backsides were roundly condemned by cultural critics, but the series remained on for years, opening the way for even more questionable and troubling programming on the major networks, not to mention cable or premium channels. And, how are Christians generally portrayed on popular media today? They are buffoons. They are hypocrites. They are crooks. They are thieves. They are deviants or deceivers. They are the objects of comedy and ridicule, even by cartoon characters like The Simpsons and SouthPark.

It goes without saying – and no one can legitimately nor credibly challenge the fact – that the mainstream media, is not “objective,” is very liberal and supports their agenda and the candidates who champion that agenda. Don’t waste your time denying the facts. It’s been going on for decades, they can just come out a little more about it now, because their views are on the cusp of absolute victory. I mean, it is common knowledge among the “media elite” that supporters of such ministries as The 700 Club “are poor, uneducated, and easily lead.” No bias there.

And lately, the fault lines that run through the former Reagan Coalition are evident. Losing a big election tends to highlight such fissures. Faceless McCain aids immediately blame Sarah Palin for the election loss to Obama/Biden. “Conservative intelligentsia,” in an apparent effort to “triangulate” their views so that they are acceptable in the new political atmosphere, have blamed Conservative candidates (WHO, beside Sarah Palin?), Christians as a Conservative constituency, and now, G-O-D Himself. Oh for [He who shall not be named] sake!

This election cycle, the Blue-bloods actually got what they wanted. John McCain, the ticket topper, was one of their own. He ran a campaign built on his tradition of “reaching across the aisle.” His advisors at least did their best to run to the middle, to hide the “ugly duckling” Christian Conservatives unless and until McCain needed their vote. They obviously deplored the choice of Governor Sarah Palin – she of Christian faith, she who proved that abortion isn’t the answer to children with disabilities, she who was not educated in an Ivy League school, she who was from WAY outside the Beltway. No wonder they hated her. No wonder they hate her supporters.

What was the result of the great “middle way?” Republicans got trounced. They are in the worst shape they’ve been in since 1976. Standing for nothing gets you nowhere – fast. Trying to walk the “middle of the road” gets you run over – dead. And where were these so called “moderate Republicans” who’ve been screaming for a “reach across the aisle” candidate? William Weld supported Barack Obama. Chuck Hagel supported Barack Obama. Even someone from the fine stock of William F. Buckley – his son Christopher – supported Barack Obama. “If he goes all wacky socialist on me I’ll be disappointed,” said he. The apple DOES fall far, far from the tree.

Then one has to read Christians like Cal Thomas bad mouthing Christians active in the civic and political life of the nation? One has to be told they are peddling a bastardized “politico-theology” if they speak out on issues they understand are vital to the nation? One must endure the “neo-separatists” who have decided, as did their Fundamentalist forefathers, that if one could not be of the world, why be in it? If one could not transform the world, why would they want to be salt and merely “preserve” it? Why not just be “light?” Why not just partially obey Jesus?

Enough. The blue bloods in the Republican party need to have a “come to Jesus” meeting – in more ways than one. They were trapped in a pit constructed from a permanent 40 year minority. Then Ronald Reagan brought a new day. Those new voters who emerged from the “Moral Majority” wing pushed Reagan Conservatism into the majority. Only those voters – and the principles they stand for – will return Republicans to the majority.

The real “problem” that blue blood and country club Republicans face is that they would rather join Liberals than agree to really accomplish some of the social goals that Christian citizens want to see. They were in the minority, and they liked it! When winners came in, they had more responsibility. They had to keep promises. They had to DO things. They didn’t want to.

If Republicans want to return to the majority again, they’d better RUN back to the principles of Reagan Conservatism – INCLUDING the social agenda of the people of faith that have for so long formed their base. If not, if they are content in the minority, then perhaps traitors to the Conservative cause like Kathleen Parker are right. Perhaps it’s time for a new party, and a funeral for the Republicans.

(c) 2008, All Right Reserved

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The John 3:16 Conference -- Southern Baptists and the Challenge of Calvinism: A Reformation Arminian Review

The Southern Baptist Convention has been perhaps the greatest means by which the Gospel has been presented to the world, at least during the history of the United States. No other Protestant denomination has achieved as much in their 163 years of existence. Thus, all Disciples of Jesus should consider important the developments that occur within the Convention. If your particular groups or movements aren’t going through what the Convention has, they either already have or likely they will.

That is why a conference held last week was, in my view, important enough to for me to attend. The “John 3:16 Conference” was held Thursday, November 6 and Friday, November 7, 2008, at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia. The purpose of “John 3:16” was to construct a theological answer to the burgeoning resurgence of Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention.

There were two reasons I personally wanted to attend “John 3:16.” First, I am a member of a Southern Baptist Church. As a member, I have a vested interest in the direction, not only of my local congregation, but also in the Convention of which it is a member. Second, I am, admittedly, a minority within the SBC. I am a “Reformation Arminian,” so a primary reason I needed to attend this Conference was as an observer. Theologically, I was quite taken with the purpose of “John 3:16.” The intent seemed to be to establish or affirm a “majoritarian” view of soteriology (the study of salvation) that served as a “middle way” between the 5-point Calvinism of the vocal minority in the SBC and in Evangelicalism broadly, and between “Arminianism,” long viewed by most Southern Baptists as on (or over) the line of heresy.

“John 3:16” became a necessity because Calvinism has made such great inroads into Southern Baptist life. When the Conservative Resurgence began in 1979, a very small minority of its constituency were members of a group called “The Founders,” or were in some way dedicated to their theological principles and goals of “restoring” Calvinism as THE Southern Baptist theology. With the ascendance of Southern Baptist Conservatism, the Calvinists within the movement were emboldened. They began to take positions in Churches, colleges and Seminaries, and they indoctrinated their parishioners in their beliefs and principles. By early in this decade, they controlled one Southern Baptist Seminary outright, have made major inroads into several others, in dozens of colleges, and perhaps thousands of churches. According to some statistics, one in every three to four “Pastors” trained by SBC schools begins their ministries as 5-point Calvinists.

The stated goals, loud voices and [frankly] obnoxious attitudes of many of these Calvinists has produced divisions, diversions and doubts among many Southern Baptists and SBC churches. Thus, the “Old Guard” leadership of the Conservative Resurgence put together the “John 3:16” Conference, to answer the challenge of Calvinism in the SBC.

Although this Conference was held at the home church of the current President of the SBC, one shouldn’t read too much into that. “John 3:16” was planned months in advance of Dr. Johnny Hunt’s election. Additionally, Dr. Hunt has made clear for a very long time his opposition to 5-point Calvinism. Dr. Hunt’s opening remarks did not address the theological issues at hand directly, but were inspirational and meaningful to me. I believe Johnny Hunt is one of the most gifted and consistent expository preachers I’ve ever heard.

The following is a list of the speakers and the topics they were assigned to address in the eight sessions of the conference:

Dr. Johnny Hunt - Opening Message
Dr. Jerry Vines – “John 3:16”
Dr. Paige Patterson – “Total Depravity”
Dr. Richard Land – “Unconditional Election”
Dr. David Allen – “Limited Atonement”
Dr. Steve Lemke – “Irresistible Grace”
Dr. Ken Keathley – “Perseverance of the Saints”
Dr. Charles Stanley – “John 3:16 to the Entire World”

I will attempt to review the comments of each of the presenters and note the highlights and weaknesses of each as I perceived them during the Conference.

After Dr. Hunt’s opening comments, Dr. Jerry Vines, the host of the Conference preached a message on the text which provided the basis of the meetings. Dr. Vines broke down John 3:16 exegetically, theologically and systematically, demonstrated through each point the major principles upon which Southern Baptists have always built their evangelistic and missionary efforts, and defended this view against many of the common attacks launched by Calvinists against common Southern Baptist views of election, atonement, and the resistibility of salvific grace.

In particular, Vines strongly emphasized the theological meaning of the Greek terms pas and pisteuo, which are usually interpreted “all” or “faith” respectively, or some derivative of these words. As always, Vines was masterful in his proclamation of Scriptural truth. In sure some fine young Calvinist (plenty of whom were present) found things to nitpick, but other than one or two small and unrelated misstatements in examples or analogies, Dr. Vines set a strong tone to the meetings.

On Thursday Evening, the third and final speaker was Dr. Paige Patterson. Dr. Patterson was one of the original two “architects” of the SBC Conservative Resurgence, and I’ve always thought of him as an excellent preacher. I was interested to see how he would approach his assignment to tackle the issue of “Total Depravity.”

Turns out, Patterson approached the subject as, a preacher. Don’t get me wrong, Patterson’s message was very good, full of relatable and practical analogies, and brought home the meaning of “Total Depravity” to his audience. Preaching, however, is necessarily imprecise at times, and does not usually lend itself to clarifying the theological issues that are at hand.

Patterson affirmed the doctrine of Total Depravity – as does every Calvinist AND every true Arminian. And his text, Romans 1:18-32 and 3:1-26, is really part and parcel of the Christian understanding of “total depravity.” He also pointed out that alluding to sinners as “Dead” (Ephesians 2:1) is only a part of the story. The use of the term “dead” does not imply that we cannot “do” anything. He uses two illustrations to make his point. The first is that of Abraham and Sarah and the conception of Isaac, as promised by God. It goes without saying that, though God’s promise was sure, Abraham and Sarah had to “cooperate.” He also uses the illustration of a sailor who is badly wounded, blind, and unable to save himself. All he can do is call out for help. In the illustration, Jesus is the rescuer who hauls him into the helicopter and saves him. Aside from the fact that helicopters weren’t used for rescue in World War II, the analogy makes sense.

What can we “do,” in terms of Salvation? The inference of course is that we as humans are able to “believe,” to exercise faith. Patterson didn’t state it plainly, word-for-word, but is that ALL we can do? And if so, can we “believe” of our own natural ability, or is it a God-enabled ability? Patterson does not directly address this matter.

There were other elements of the message that left a number of questions. For instance, the most troublesome to me and I’m sure to my Calvinist friends [or foes], is the statement that humans “are not born guilty before God. I do not think that can be demonstrated from Scripture.”

Oh? The implications of this statement are myriad, and I won’t dare to guess exactly how Patterson arrived at such a conclusion. He does not give an explanation or evidence either. Nor does he answer questions that naturally rise from such a position. What happens to infants? HOW are we “born in sin” but not born “guilty” before God?

Patterson’s address on Total Depravity was inspirational, but the questions he left open needed to be more precisely addressed. I particularly have issues with the idea of human “natural ability” to believe and the idea that humans are not “born guilty.” At this point, I’m merely reviewing what I’ve heard, as these issues will be debated more fully in the aftermath of “John 3:16.”

On Friday morning, Dr. Richard Land was the first speaker, and he addressed the topic of “Unconditional Election.” Dr. Land’s address actually does more to establish a unique Southern Baptist view of election than any I have ever heard. His title was Congruent Election: Understanding Election from an Eternal Now Perspective.

As an historian, I appreciate that Dr. Land begins his address by looking back into the history of Southern Baptists. John Leland, a Baptist preacher who was a product of the Great Awakening, is quoted, and it is his quote that sets the tone and direction of Land’s address:

"These two propositions can be tolerably well reconciled together, but the modern misfortune is, that men often spend too much time in explaining away one or the other, or in fixing the lock-link to join the others together; and by such means, have little time in a sermon to insist on those but two great things which God blesses. I do not plead for implicit faith; let each man believe, speak, and act for himself; but when it is confessed that nine tenths of the scripture is best explained without descending to those points, a man must appear contracted who spends all his time in disputing about them; and more malevolent when he finds it tends, not to promote love and union, but rather a rancorous spirit. Let us then follow after the things that make for peace, and the things whereby one maw another, and strive who shall be the most humble, greatest affronts."

Dr. Land also cited a number of other sources in making his point that Calvinists have attempted to “abscond our history.” Within the sphere of Southern Baptists, the Calvinistic Charleston, said Land, was always “the harmony to the melody of the Separate (revivalistic) Baptist tradition.” I believe, historically, Land makes a very strong case for the Southern Baptist concept of election.

Theologically, Dr. Land also makes a good case. He points to a common error that Calvinists often make. Scripturally, Land makes the case that there are two types of Election. There is Abrahamic Election, which pertains to Israel as a national people, and there is Salvific Election, which pertains to all people in all times. Even those under the Abrahamic Covenant were “saved” through “salvific election,” not through being born sons of Abraham. Calvinists often confuse these two types of election, and thus misunderstand or misinterpret Romans 8, as well as Romans 9-11, which are parenthetical and deal with Israel as a nationally elect people, NOT with salvific election.

Land then moved on to explain his concept of “Congruent Election,” and the basis he cites for his theory is the “Eternal Now” understanding of God’s view of time and history. This view was most notably championed by C.S. Lewis. IN short, Land contends that “God is often disappointed, but never surprised…God knows the future perfectly, He knows our future decisions, He knows us better than we know ourselves…Time does not have cognitive content for God.” Land quotes Herschel Hobbs, who said, “The foreknowledge of God is based upon His omniscience.” Land infers from that (correctly) that God knows the Elect because He is eternally “Now,” yet this is consistent with Man’s free will, as both God’s sovereignty and free moral agency are asserted in Scripture.

Land concluded his address with three major points: (1) God experiences the rejection of the non-elect as eternally present with Him; (2) God always deals differently with the non-elect than with the elect; (3) From God’s perspective, that people won’t be saved is different than the idea that they can’t be saved.

Substantively, Dr. Richard Land’s address was probably the most satisfying of the Conference for me. His concept of Congruent Election was well presented and explained. In fact, I find myself in agreement with much of His viewpoint. I also affirm the “Eternal Now” view of God and His relationship to time. I also affirm God has perfect foreknowledge of the future, and that God’s sovereignty and omniscience are in harmony with the free will of men. I have a small hang-up with His conclusion that God always deals differently with the elect and the non-elect. But his statement does not negate that God offers salvation to ALL men, a point he made earlier in his address. Richard Land’s contribution to the Southern Baptist view of election is important and valuable.

Dr. David Allen was assigned the task of addressing “Limited Atonement.” His approach was excellent, although, as he himself said, his presentation would be “like drinking water from a fire hose.” In completely destroying the “Calvinist” concept of “Limited Atonement,” he cited ONLY Calvinists, their statements and works, to make his case. The quotes were too numerous and detailed to recount here, but among those he cited were John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, Augustus Strong, Charles Hodge, Zacharias Ursinus, and E.W. Bullinger. There were many, many more.

It was somewhat humorous to me that Allen pointed out most young Calvinists, particularly those in the SBC, have no idea what these “original” Calvinists actually said. Usually, they haven’t read them, and those they follow now won’t cite them. This is the “dirty little secret you’re not often told.” Most young Calvinists just read Piper and MacArthur.

Allen posits three possibilities with regard to the extent of the Atonement: (1) Arminians believe that Christ died equally for all; (2) “4 point Calvinists” claim He died for all, but especially for the elect; (3) Calvinism’s view that Christ died only for the elect. Edwards, as well as Richard Baxter and others are cited as affirming the mediating view, NOT the extreme Calvinist view of atonement.

Allen also cited three different sets of Scriptural texts to establish the correct understanding of words “all,” “”world” and “many.” The convenient and contorted misinterpretations of these words in Scripture are obliterated in Allen’s analysis.

Allen’s conclusion for affirming an “unlimited atonement,” are these: (1) Limited Atonement undermines God’s salvific will; (2) Limited Atonement undermines evangelistic zeal; (3) Limited Atonement means that we could not say to a sinner that Christ died for you; (4) Limited Atonement means that the preacher must speak to his congregation as if they can be saved, when he knows some cannot; (5) Limited Atonement concludes that we cannot or should not give evangelistic invitations – which a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Calvinist Professor stated point-blank at a recent conference.

Allen’s address received a standing ovation, and with good reason. Though he had limited time, his sources were “Calvinists” themselves, and clearly teased out some large inconsistencies among them, as well as with the clear teaching of Scripture. Allen’s differentiation between the Arminian view that “Christ died equally for all,” and the mediating position that “Christ died for all, but especially for the elect,” is another effort to establish a unique Southern Baptist idea of the Atonement. His position is not new, and is held by many Southern Baptists, and maybe even some shades of Arminians. My only critical question would be, in the end, how does the meditating position differ from that of Arminians? How does Jesus’ death of itself mean more to one than to another? Is it not faith that makes His death efficacious? Whence then the difference?

Dr. Steve Lemke next addressed the topic of “Irresistible Grace.” To me, the highlight of Lemke’s case was the first five minutes. He began by reading a lengthy quote, and he challenged the hearers to identify which Calvinist might have said this. I will reproduce the quote in full here:

"That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.”

"That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ, but respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible; inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and else­where in many places."

Sounds Calvinist, right? That statement was made by the “Remonstrant’s.” These were the Dutch Reformed Christians who followed the teachings of Jacobus Arminius. They were the “original” Arminians. They were also condemned at the Synod of Dort by “Calvinists,” who would not even allow them representation or the privilege of presenting their case at the meeting.

Dr. Steve Lemke pointedly put the lie to the myth so often perpetuated by Calvinists – and many Southern Baptists in the past – that Arminians are “Pelagians or semi-Pelagians.” Lemke noted that “the Remonstrant’s utterly rejected the idea that sinners could do anything to contribute to their own salvation; therefore, the Synod of Dort is wrong to label the Arminians either Pelagian or semi-Pelagian.”

It did my heart good to hear Dr. Lemke begin his address in this way. Frankly, from my perspective, it shows a great deal of growth among Southern Baptists. When I began ministry – in a Southern Baptist church – in 1987, I was almost anathematized when I revealed that I was Arminian. Fortunately, God made a way for me to serve among Free Will (Arminian) Baptists for nearly 17 years after that. I can’t recount how many times over the years some Southern Baptists (and Independent Baptists as well) openly condemned me as a “heretic,” a “false teacher,” or a “false prophet.” That’s okay. I’ve learned to live with it. Still, it’s not true. Dr. Lemke’s words were most welcome and appreciated. That said, Lemke assured those at “John 3:16” that none of the Conference speakers were “Arminians, Pelagians, or Semi-Pelagians.”

The main thrust of Lemke’s address was to demonstrate the scriptural errancy of the Calvinist concept known as “irresistible grace.” He first made the case that it was on this point that the Synod of Dort became most obstinate and disagreeable with the Remonstrant’s.

So, what do the Scriptures have to say about “irresistible grace?” “Not a lot,” Lemke said, to the laughter of the congregation. He went on to point out that there were explicit examples in Scripture where it was stated that men “resisted God.” Take Steven’s preaching in Acts 7. In verse 51, he declared that the Jewish religious leaders “always resist the Spirit of God.” He also noted that in the Gospels Jesus stated the same thing on several occasions (Luke 7:30; 13:24; Matthew 23:37). He also used the parable of the vineyard owner among others to demonstrate that the “key differential” within the parables was not God’s sovereignty, but whether those in the stories were willing to respond.

Dr. Lemke summarized his address with a series of “concerns” he had about “irresistible grace”: (1) Irresistible grace can undermine the doctrine of conversion. He cites the fact that the Synod of Dort approved of baptism of infants and considered them “Christians” under a covenant without any kind of salvation experience or conversion. (2) Irresistible grace reverses the Biblical order of salvation. It places regeneration before faith, whereas Scripture always places faith before regeneration. He cited three scriptural texts to bolster this point, including the example of the serpent in the wilderness (John 5:40), coming to Christ precedes having eternal life (John 11:25), and the Gospel injunction that repentance and faith come before regeneration (John 20:31). (3) Irresistible grace weakens missions and evangelism.

Dr. Lemke closes with three simple, practical questions” (1) What are the implications logically if regeneration comes prior to faith? (2) Is it possible to be elect, but not saved? (3) Does God have a “secret will” that He really doesn’t love “everyone”?

Dr. Lemke made a good case for rejecting “irresistible grace” (or as the Calvinists prefer, “effectual calling”) from both a historic and Biblical perspective. The one major weakness in his address was that he didn’t really propose a Biblical alternative. He never mentioned the concept of “Prevenient Grace,” which Arminians hold to. Even Richard Land in his earlier address commented that he believed in “prevenient grace.” But Lemke left that unaddressed. Still, it was a good start. I hope in the future, Southern Baptists will further clarify their take on how God draws people, convicts them, enlightens then, and enables them to choose – either to receive or to reject – Christ. That is Prevenient Grace, and whether Southern Baptists know it or not, that’s probably what most of them believe.

Dr. Ken Keathley, Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the final topic of “Perseverance of the Saints.” This was the subject of most interest to me, because it is this subject more than any other that sets apart Arminians from Southern Baptists.

Dr. Keathley approached this topic to begin with, from the perspective of assurance of salvation. He noted two essential components of assurance: (1) certainty that one is saved; (2) certainty that once one is in a state of grace, one will remain there.

The most effective argument Keathley made was that, though the Reformers taught that assurance is the essence of saving faith, certain doctrines embraced by the Reformers undermine this assurance. Keathley identifies several of those doctrines: (1) the distinction between the revealed will of God and the “hidden” will of God; (2) The doctrine of limited atonement; (3) The doctrine of “temporary faith” given to the non-elect. He also pointed to the example of the Puritans, who based their assurance on sanctification rather than justification, had great anxiety about their assurance, and were very strongly invested in the doctrine of “temporary faith.”

Dr. Keathley also employed the use of syllogisms, one mystical and the other logical. While these were effective arguments, they don’t necessarily translate well on paper, or online, so I’ll just say that the syllogisms demonstrated the precarious logic of Calvinist concepts of assurance.

One note – it was about this point on Dr. Keathley’s presentation that he made (at least as I understood it) a point to say that it appeared both Augustine and Arminians taught the possibility of apostasy. In other words, that one may be saved, and later may be lost again. That got my attention. I know both Calvin and Arminius relied heavily on Augustine’s soteriological principles, but I’d always thought Augustine rejected the idea of Apostasy. Perhaps Augustinian scholars can clarify this point?

Keathley also noted that Karl Barth taught apostasy was impossible through implicit universalism, while Calvinists and Dispensationalists generally affirm the concept of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” He also contrasted the position of the Grace Theological Society which ignores or explains away the “warning passages,” and as a result seems to encourage laxity in commitment and give false comfort to “false believers,” with that of Bruce Demarest’ teachings that good works are a test of genuineness, as in the contrasts of Peter and Judas, and relegating the warning passages to discern between true and false believers.

Neither of these, however, seem wholly satisfying to some theologians. Here, Keathley directly takes on two prominent Southern Baptist Calvinists, Dr. Tom Schreiner and A.B. Canneday, and their take on Perseverance. He points to their “mediating view” that warnings of apostasy are genuinely threatened, but not possible. They actually teach in The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance, that perseverance is the basis of Justification. Wow! Schreiner actually says that “Yes, works are necessary to be saved. No this is not works righteousness, for the works are hardly meritorious.” Dr. Keathley succinctly critiqued this view when he said, “This is not close to Trent [the Catholic view], this IS Trent.”

Keathley closed his address by offering a “modest” proposal, in which he outlines his idea of a Biblical, consistent and Southern Baptist view of Perseverance:

(1) The only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ.
(a) Any model that begins with Christ and ends with man is doomed to failure.
(b) Christ and Him alone is the basis for assurance.
(2) Assurance is the essence of saving faith.
(a) Works provide “warrant,” but not a basis for assurance, Works are the buttress, but Christ and His work are the foundation.
(b) Assurance is analogous to how a Christian knows that God loves him even in times of suffering; the Christian may not feel loved, but the Bible reveals that God does love us.
(3) Saving faith perseveres or remains until the day when it gives way to sight.
(a) Perseverance should be viewed more as a promise than a requirement.
(b) Faith necessarily leads to good works.
(c) Indifference concerning godliness is more of a “red flag” that weakness in godliness.
(4) There are rewards to gain or lose subsequent to faith.
(5) Assurance comes from Christ alone.

I had never seen nor heard Dr. Keathley before, but I was very impressed by both his scholarship and demeanor. He knows his stuff, and it will be young SBC leaders in thinking and doing like him that will propel the Convention forward while preserving its theological heritage.

Dr. Keathley’s position is, in my view, vintage Southern Baptist. As a Reformation Arminian, I differ slightly on a couple of points, which goes without saying. One question I had was, (point 1.a) does a model that begins and ends with Christ regarding perseverance require ANYTHING from a “believer?” How about sustained faith? Another question is, if assurance is the essence of Christian faith (point 2.b) and assurance comes from Christ alone (point 5), then HOW does this assurance come? By works, as Schreiner contends? By some sort of “feeling,” or “still, small voice?” Or, perhaps, by the Word of God (I John 5:13,14)? I think Dr. Keathley would agree with me on this point, but it stands in need of clarification.

The final speaker what Dr. Charles Stanley. Dr. Stanley didn’t so much preach or teach, as he did share his wealth of wisdom and experiences in reaching the world with the Gospel. Dr. Stanley is the Pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and the voice of In Touch Ministries, which reaches around the world via TV, radio, CD, cassette and MP3, and the written word including books and his In Touch magazine. Millions have heard the gospel through the ministry of this man. He helped the conference attendees to be mindful of the worldwide impact of John 3:16, and to be about the business to which God has called the Church.


Five of the seven speakers at the John 3:16 Conference dealt with the Calvinist positions on soteriology often described by the acronym TULIP.

Dr. Paige Patterson tackled Total Depravity, and preached a message of rich and Biblical analogies demonstrating a commitment to the historical understanding of the doctrine. Patterson left unsaid some finer points, such as, does the individual retain freedom of the will by natural ability, or does he gain such freedom through God’s prevenient grace? And, what does it mean that we must “do” something for our salvation? Is that just a reference to faith?

Dr. Richard Land dealt with the concept of Unconditional Election. Dr. Land proposed a “middle way” as the Southern Baptist position on election, both historically and theologically. His concept of “Congruent Election” was excellent, and that it was based on C.S. Lewis’ idea of the “Eternal Now” view of God was personally pleasing, as I hold to that model myself. Clarification and explanation is necessary with regard to Dr. Land’s statement that “God always deals differently with the elect than He does with the non-elect.”

Dr. David Allen addressed the topic of Limited Atonement, and debunked many of the modern day “Calvinist” myths that claim the historic pioneers of that theological movement affirmed this idea. In fact, he used only the work of Calvinist scholars, historic and contemporary, to demonstrate the fallacy of the idea, and the false impression of Calvinist unanimity on “Limited Atonement.” His “mediating position” between the Arminian belief that Christ died equally for all and the Calvinist concept that Christ dies only for the elect, is to say that Christ died for all, especially for the elect. This idea needs to be clarified and fleshed out. How can one die more for one person than for another? If it’s just a matter of application, or is it somehow “predetermined?”

Dr. Steve Lemke answered the challenge of Calvinism’s irresistible grace, and did a good job at refuting its unscriptural nature. He also did a wonderful service in pointing out that Calvinism’s charge against Arminians (sometimes propagated by Baptists in the past) as “Pelagians” or “Semi-Pelagians,” is false historically and theologically. The main component Lemke left untreated was, if not irresistible grace, then what? He didn’t mention the phrase “prevenient grace,” that I recall, though it seemed he was hinting at it. Can Southern Baptists answer the question of HOW God draws one to salvation? If it is a resistible call, is it a “real” call, or is it a false call, as Calvinists insist?

Dr. Ken Keathley explained the Southern Baptist position on Perseverance of the Saints. I had always thought that Southern Baptists pretty much swallowed this point of Calvinism hook, line and sinker. Not so, from Keathley’s perspective. In pointing out some Calvinist’s extreme positions on Perseverance, he draws a distinction with both the Arminian concept of the possibility of apostasy, and the Calvinist concept that somehow justification is secured by or demonstrated in perseverance. Keathley indicates that the simple formula “once saved always saved” is simplistic, yet he concludes that our assurance and indeed, our perseverance, is the endeavor of Christ alone. This prompts me to ask questions like, “If assurance is in Christ alone, what role does personal faith play?” Or, “is my faith only necessary when I am initially born again, or may I cease to believe and yet still remain ‘In Christ’?”


The John 3:16 Conference accomplished the goals for which it was designed. The speakers laid out a theological framework of unique Southern Baptist principles of soteriology as opposed to those of the Calvinists in their midst, and as a sort of “middle way” between Arminianism and Calvinism. But, this was only a first step. Southern Baptists majoritarians would do well to follow up on these efforts with further conferences, with theological forums and with publications for the laity. Calvinists have made inroads into Southern Baptist life because they never tire of making such efforts. It is easier for them to “find the elect” on the pews of churches than it is in the hostile world. The greatest antidote to Calvinists errors is education and discipleship of the people in the pews.

If one came to “John 3:16” to look for unanimity on all theological points, they were sorely disappointed. I have noticed this was quickly the charge of many of the fine, young Calvinists who graced “John 3:16” with their presence. Though all of the presenters were Southern Baptist to the core, none of them agreed with the others precisely on every single issue, or nuance thereof. To insist on that is to misunderstand who Baptists are, not to mention what all humans are like. Not even Southern Baptist Calvinists can pull off that kind of agreement. Let’s not be unrealistic in our expectations or demands.

I hope this Conference produces three things:

(1) A resolve to have more “John 3:16” conferences. Perhaps these conferences could grow to include non-Calvinists from beyond Southern Baptist circles, scholars who hold largely to the perspectives of Southern Baptists, but may vary on the finer points here and there. The church is not devoid of such people beyond Southern Baptist ranks. And, if the Founders can host the Piper’s, the MacArthur’s, and even infant baptizers and Covenantalists, I think the majoritarian Southern Baptists would do well to find those outside their common circles to complement their convictions.

(2) A book publishing the papers – as well as those of others, perhaps to allow the authors to revise and extend their remarks. I am happy that the audios and videos for this conference are available at I have also heard that there are plans to publish the papers in book form. It would be nice if they could address areas they hadn’t the time for during the conference, and if they asked other majoritarian Southern Baptists such as Michael Yarnell to contribute.

(3) A kinder, gentler attitude toward Arminian brethren who have been forced to deal with many of these issues long ago – and have been the victims of Calvinism and it’s distorted portrayal of their beliefs. A couple of years ago, Dr. Daniel Akin stated that “Pelagians, Arminians, and Open Theists will not feel at home in our Southern Baptist family.” As a Southern Baptist and Reformation Arminian, I felt distinctly unwelcomed by the words of Dr. Akin. It was as if he were equating Arminians with the heresies of Pelagianism and Open Theism. But at “John 3:16,” I felt no such rejection. Among the speakers I talked to, I found them refreshingly understanding of my position and kindly non-judgmental in our disagreements. I was among brethren and friends. I was among people striving to discover, live and teach truth. And that was, perhaps, the greatest success “John 3:16” achieved in my eyes.


This paper was published at the Society of Evangelical Arminians website ( ).

Incidentally, anyone who knows how to get a computer to offset/indent long quotes correctly -- you are a billionaire. I hate this failure of every computer program I have and use. They simply don't allow for long, indented quotes. Sorry about that.



Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Addendum: The First 100 Days...

Urgent: Fire ALL the Federal Prosecutors appointed by the Bush Administration. Remember, the eight that Bush fired who were holdovers from the Clinton Regime? Well, if Bill Clinton could get away with it in 1993, Barack Obama can do it in
2009. In fact, get rid of most of the Clinton appointees as well. No use worrying about potential political threats from the Clinton Camp. This way, all those investigations and cases filed against my buddies in ACORN will simply -- vanish. "Poof!" Not a word will come from the press, and ACORN will be back in business in the 21 states in which they were being investigated in no time. Federally funded of course.

Also, encourage Congress to "act quickly" to pass a law nullifying the referenda banning "same sex marriage." Also order my newly appointed Federal Prosecutors to file Federal court injunctions against the states where "same sex marriage" bans have been passed or implemented, on the basis of violations of Federal "civil rights." Thus, the laws will be tabled and in short order, Congress can federally legalize "marriage" for my GLBT friends....


Governor Sarah Palin: “Hello, Governor Jindal? I hope you’re doing good today.”

Governor Bobby Jindal: “Hello Governor Palin! I appreciate your call! I’m so sorry you and Senator McCain didn’t pull it out last night.”

Palin: “Well thank you Bobby – may I call you Bobby?”

Jindal: “Of course, Governor.”

Palin: “No. Sarah, please. Yes, we worked hard. I was honored to stand beside Senator McCain, but the tide was going against us this time around.”

Jindal: “I agree. It would have been difficult no matter who the nominee.”

Palin: “And that’s the reason I called. Bobby, we both know that the next four years will be tough. As charismatic as Barack Obama is, he’s just as much a Socialist. We, as Republicans, as Conservatives, have to think about the future.”

Jindal: “I agree Ma’am.”

Palin: “Sarah, please. The reason I’m calling may seem a little mercenary, but I want you to think about something.”

Jindal: “Alright Sarah. What do you have in mind?”

Palin: “In four years, the United States will have had enough Socialism, at least as things are now. I don’t imagine higher taxes, weak foreign policy and redistribution of wealth will go over for long with all the “Joe the Plumber’s.”

Jindal: “Not when they figure it all out. Not at all.”

Palin: “I want to run this by you, just to keep in mind. In four years, the Republican Party is going to need new faces. They will need new ideas, fresh blood. But they will also need leaders who are tied to the Reagan principles that made our party succeed in the past. To sort of translate those principles into a vision of the future.”

Jindal: “I think you’re right Sarah. Without new faces, even the message of Conservatism won’t fly. Not in this environment.”

Palin: “I didn’t expect to be put in the national spotlight this election. I was happy being the governor of Alaska. But I also think I was put in this position for a reason. I hope you don’t take that wrongly.”

Jindal: “Not at all Sarah. I would agree. There’s no question you helped the McCain ticket.”

Palin: “Well, thank you. I hope that, in four years, you and I are well into our second terms as governor’s of our states, and that we’ve done good jobs in taking care of our state’s business – like the way your handled the hurricanes earlier this year. Have you all recovered?”

Jindal: “We’re getting there. We really had a mess, but it wasn’t like Katrina, and I think we were better organized.”

Palin: “There’s no question you handled it more than competently.”

Jindal: “Again, thank you Sarah.”

Palin: “You’re welcome. Well, as I was saying, I’m on the national stage now, and I want to use that to do what’s best for the country. I believe in four years that may mean I seek the Republican nomination. I don’t want to be presumptuous, because I know you must be considering a run too, but--.”

Jindal: Well, the thought had occurred to me, but I haven’t given it any serious consideration yet.”

Palin: “Well, I respect your position, and if you decided to run, I’d understand. But, I just want to throw this out to you. If I decide to run, I’d like you to consider the possibility of supporting me – maybe even being my running mate.”

Jindal: “Wow. I wasn’t expecting that. I don’t know what to say.”

Palin: “Well, I suppose you could cuss me out. I just ran on a losing ticket and you have as much experience as I do.”

Jindal: “Oh no. It is an honor. It’s something to think about. I just don’t know what will happen between now and then.”

Palin: “You’re right. I’m not asking for any kind of promise, I just wanted you to give it some thought. I believe that as honorable as the others who ran for president are, and as much service as they’ve rendered, that they are the faces of yesterday. I respect Governor Romney, Mayor Guiliani, Senator Thompson, Representative Hunter. They all have a role to play, but the future belongs to a new generation.”

Jindal: “I agree with you on that Sarah. The message and the faces of the Republican Party have to be new and to look forward.”

Palin: “Good. I hope that, if things went somewhat as I’ve mentioned, that I could win and then support my Vice President for two terms as well. I know it’s too early to plan, but the future belongs to those who think ahead.”

Jindal: “No argument there Sarah.”

Palin: “Bobby, whatever you decide, I hope you’ll give it some thought. I believe we’d make a formidable team. Maybe we could reintroduce Conservatism to a new generation.”

Jindal: “We absolutely have to do that. I agree.”

Palin: “Well, if you decide to run, or to support someone else, I respect you and your leadership abilities. I hope we will be working together in some way in the future.”

Jindal: “Oh I don’t doubt for a second that we will, Sarah.”

Palin: “Okay. Thanks for taking my call Bobby. I appreciate your hearing me out, and I look forward to talking to you in the future.”

Jindal: “I appreciate the call Sarah. I’ll look forward to talking with you again too. In the meantime, you and Todd and the children take a break! You’ve earned it, enjoy some rest.”

Palin: “Oh we will. I wish you and your family well. Talk to you soon.”

Jindal: “Thanks Governor Palin. Good-bye.”

Palin: “It’s just Sarah, Bobby. And thanks again. Bye-bye.”

2008 Copyright, all rights reserved

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election 2008 - Final Projections

The map I link to above is my final projection for the Electoral College 2008.

In about 30 hours, Election day will officially begin. I've spent several hours today looking at polls & trends. Unfortunately, I can find no great groundswell of support for McCain/Palin that will power them over the finish line first.

I expect McCain to win GA, ... Read MoreIN, ND & MO. It appears FL, VA, OH, NV, NM & CO are breaking to Obama. Obama will also retain PA, NH & IA, which will give the Obama/Biden ticket the largest electoral victory since Bill Clinton's reelection in 1996.

Summary: Popular vote - 52.1% Obama/Biden, 47.3% McCain/Palin. Electoral College - 338 Obama/Biden, 200 McCain/Pailn.

God help us all....

The current compostition of the US Senate is 49 Dems, 49 Reps, and 2 Inds who caucus with Dems. Thus, Dems have a 51-49 controlling majority in the Senate.

The current composition of the US House is 235 Dems, 199 Reps, and 1 vacant seat.

As of today, the best I can tell, the Democrats are likely to pick up 7-8 Senate seats, including those in the states of AK, CO, NH, NM, NC, OR & VA. The one questionable race that would give them 8 would be Minnesota. But, if Norm Coleman is defeated by the arrogant, Liberal, Hollywood "comedian" wannabe turned failed radio talk show host Al Franken, then the US deserves total destruction.... Okay, leaving my soapbox now.

I expect the next Senate to be 59 Dems to 41 Reps, just short of the magic "60" needed to be filibuster-proof. If so, that would be a God-ordained miracle. Also, Joe Lieberman may be shunned by Dems, and so may caucus with Republicans, meaning 58-42. That may be just an outside personal fantasy at this point though. AND, Dems are notorious for picking off weak RINO's and getting them to switch parties for some kind of power or perk in the Senate, or at least to sign on to a filibuster-proof majority on an issue by issue basis. So Election Day may not remove that possibility for weeks -- or for 2 more years.

In the House, I believe it's a fairly safe bet that the Dems will pick up at least 20 seats.
That could reach as high as 40 or 42 seats, if Obama were to win an overwhelming Reagan-type landslide -- but I think that's unlikely. A more accurate projection is very difficult in the house, because there is a lack of polling and research data in some of the races, and local events can have a profound effect on individual races.

Bottom line in the House races, though... I expect the New balance in the house to be 259 Democrats, 176 Republicans. That would be a commanding control of the House, and Obama, Pelosi, et. al. coudl have virtually anything they wanted in the "lower chamber."

I sincerely hope my conclusions are incorrect. Anything can still happen until the polls actually close, but time is almost gone. And, if I am right, I have a deep and abiding conviction that the United States we once knew will be gone in short order.

Again, God help us all.