Earlier this summer, The Gospel Project hosted more than 500 people for breakfast and a panel discussion on God’s sovereignty and missions.
Ed Stetzer, general editor of The Gospel Project, moderated a discussion that included me, David Platt (pastor of the Church at Brook Hills), and Frank Page (president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention). The audio from this discussion is now available. Click here: Gospel Project Panel – Soteriology and the Mission of God.
As I listened again to the conversation, a few thoughts came to mind.
1. Discussions about soteriology must be connected to missions.
When Matt Capps, brand manager for The Gospel Project, first asked me if we should do a panel discussion on Calvinism, I was hesitant. I felt like the panel discussion from last year — on Christ-centered preaching — was helpful for pastors navigating the hermeneutical issues involved in showing how all the Bible points to Jesus. I worried that a conversation about Calvinism would draw a crowd but wouldn’t be as beneficial.
Eventually, we decided that if we tackled such a controversial subject, the discussion would need to be connected to mission at every point. I’m not interested in people theologizing for theology’s sake. Theology matters because theology impacts mission. Listening to the audio from our discussion, I was pleased by how the conversation was relentlessly driven by bigger questions related to missions and evangelism.
2. It is possible to have a light-hearted, friendly conversation about serious theological issues.
The tone of the panel discussion was set by Ed, who, because he fell off a ladder a few days before and injured his back, was on painkillers. I doubt we would have had as much fun without narcotics being involved. All kidding aside, I hope the camaraderie of the panel shows that serious theological ideas and meaningful differences can be discussed in a friendly manner, as brothers who are partners in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Tone is important. We ought to have serious conversations about serious issues while we show love and affection toward each other. Banter does not hinder serious conversations. Sometimes, lightheartedness is the way we show that, even as we are serious about the gospel and Great Commission, we don’t take ourselves too seriously in the process.
There aren’t two “sides” on soteriology in the SBC; instead, there is a spectrum. According to LifeWay Research, most Southern Baptists today do not fit neatly into categories of “Traditionalist” or “Calvinist.” Neither do many Southern Baptist heroes of the past, men like E. Y. Mullins (who rejected original guilt but affirmed unconditional election) or W. A. Criswell (who rejected limited atonement but affirmed the effectual call).
In this particular discussion, it was clear that Frank Page, David Platt, Ed Stetzer, and I agreed on a lot of things. But, interestingly enough, no one on the platform had identical views on the points of Calvinism or the ordo salutis (the logical order of salvation events). Our Convention is not monolithic on soteriology. We are on a spectrum, not sides.
4. God can use our feeble attempts to do theology for the greater good of His church.
One of the comments I made in the discussion is that the SBC may be better because of our diversity on this issue. I know many disagree with this perspective — Calvinists who believe the SBC would be stronger if everyone shared their soteriological views and others who believe the SBC would be stronger if there were no Calvinists at all. I understand these perspectives, but my strong belief in God’s sovereignty gives me confidence that God will use our differing conclusions for the good of His people.
What if, in God’s good providence, He uses our debates and discussions as the means by which He keeps us on mission for His kingdom?
What if the way God keeps our Calvinist brothers and sisters from hardening into the evangelistic apathy of Hyper-Calvinism is through ongoing conversations with those who disagree with their soteriological position?
What if the way God keeps our non-Calvinist brothers and sisters from softening into the inclusivism that dilutes our evangelistic passion is through tough conversations with the more Reformed?
Perhaps God makes the SBC stronger through these discussions and debates. That’s why it would be wrong to claim an artificial harmony where we say the differences don’t matter, and unwise to chase out brothers and sisters who are not of the same theological persuasion.
I want the conversation about Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention to bring glory to God by causing us to dig deeper into the Scriptures, by teaching us how to love people with whom we have substantive disagreements, and by leading us to greater engagement in God’s mission. For after all, there is no gospel-centrality apart from mission.
Enjoy the conversation! Gospel Project Panel – Soteriology and the Mission of God