I listened to Dr. Jerry Vines’ message entitled “The Baptist and His Election” preached at First Baptist Church,Woodstock,GA last Sunday evening. He stated that his Pastor, Dr. Johnny Hunt, had asked him to address the issue for their church. Dr. Vines was self-admittedly out of his norm—he read his sermon rather than extemporaneously delivered it >>>
Dr. Vines is a key figure in Southern Baptist life. He remains an icon of the Conservative Resurgence within the SBC having been elected President of the convention, 1988-90. Before moving to First Baptist Church, Woodstock, he served as Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL for twenty-four years. He’s authored many books and presently has a very active conference ministry headquartered at First Church, Woodstock.
Though being keenly aware of his ministry and role in SBC life, I have not been an avid follower of Dr. Vines through the years. I do know from all indications, he is a man of integrity, a great preacher and a dedicated Southern Baptist. His political involvement in the controversial years of our denomination surely tainted his image among many Baptists—especially our moderate Baptist family—but any honest estimation should offer him the benefit of a doubt. Those were war years. Get a life guys. Let it go.
Dr. Tom Ascol is another icon in SBC life. Not his role in the Conservative Resurgence has made him such. Rather, his catapult to “fame” is for his role in the Calvinist Resurgence within SBC. Dr. Ascol is one of the original architects of the Founders movement, which sees its future, at least from my understanding, as the legitimate heir to the Conservative Resurgence. For them, while the Conservative Resurgence recaptured the rightful Authority for the SBC—the Inerrant, Infallible Scripture--the Calvinist Resurgence believes it did not go far enough. Sola Scriptura must be complemented by Sola Fide.
Therefore, the Founders vision seems to be aimed at taking the SBC back to sola fide. And, for Founders, sola fide can be summed up with the acrostic TULIP. Of course, most will know exactly what the little flower stands for—historic, five point Calvinism. For Calvinists, the TULIP is the “faith once for all given to the saints” for which the Apostle Jude exhorted us to contend.
Thus, this brief background gives a context for my present comment: from my perspective, the swipes at Dr. Vines from the Calvinist community for his sermon last Sunday evening at First Baptist Church is non-helpful at best and completely out of order at worst.
For me, it merely drives the wedge deeper still toward an inevitable open war in SBC life. We just survived one war (And some doubt we actually survived it. Rather, they say, we remain mortally wounded and are slowly bleeding to death). Can we really survive another one so soon?
Understand; the issue is not whether Dr. Vines could be wrong about his understanding of Biblical Election. Indeed Dr. Vines could be wrong about a multiplicity of Biblical themes. I do not know any preacher who does not risk making inaccurate statements when he stands to preach—especially on a theme that divides not Baptist from Baptist but Christian from Christian, theologies from theologies, Conservative from Conservative. Please.
Nevertheless, some seem addicted to “correcting the record” for their perspective. Dr. Ascol, not only weighed in with his “passing thoughts”, but promoted a website that is going to offer a “careful evaluation” in a series of critical posts. He writes: “Keep your eye on on [sic] the Strange Baptist Fire blog because I understand that a series of careful evaluations of the sermon will be appearing there in the near future” The site Dr. Ascol recommends is not one known for its irenic, scholarly tone. Just a group of critical bloggers from the “reformed” community, most of whom are not affiliated with the SBC.
Another blogger chides Dr. Vines and his “misinformation” and steers the readers to sites that will give answers to Calvinism “that are honest and to the point.” Of course, the sites are not affiliated with Southern Baptists. Rather, it seems that if we desire to really know the truth about Calvinism, we need to look to Presbyterians to teach us.
What needs to be kept in mind is, that at least at this juncture, Dr. Vines was not on a circuit cruise, going all over the SBC informing the SBC about the dangers of Calvinism, exploiting his celebrity status as a way to influence the convention so that Calvinism will be censored from the SBC. No. Dr. Vines was, at his Pastor’s request, teaching what he knew about Baptists and Calvinism to his congregation.
Perhaps he was mistaken in some areas. I believe he was. I agree with Dr. Ascol about the Calvinism oozing from the most influential Baptist confessions of the seventeenth century. I too am curious about how Dr. Vines comes to his conclusion to the contrary. These statements are fodder for dialog, not reasons for assassination.
Yet I do not agree with Dr. Ascol who concludes his “passing thoughts” about Dr. Vines’ message that the sermon was a complete misrepresentation of Calvinism. Dr. Ascol asks in his conclusion: “Will this kind of complete misrepresentation of the theological heritage of the Southern Baptist Convention and the theological convictions of thousands of Southern Baptist pastors be given a pass by denominational leadership?”
A complete misrepresentation? I listened again to the message. I specifically listened to his exposition of the “TULIP”. My question is, how did Dr. Vines “completely misrepresent” the five points of Calvinism? Did he caricature them? Did he misstate Calvinist exposition of the texts?
I could not find one text Dr. Vines misrepresented from the Calvinist standpoint. I did hear many texts that Calvinists employ for which Dr. Vines offered his own exegesis. Is that supposed to count for “complete misrepresentation”?
I also heard texts non-Calvinists usually employ to argue their case. Does this count as “complete misrepresentation”? Can a preacher not offer what he believes to be a sound exegesis of a text without howls that he is “completely misrepresenting” somebody else?
I fear what is happening in our Calvinist friends’ community is an atmosphere where no one can possibly speak for Calvinists except Calvinists themselves. No one could give an accurate understanding of the “reformed” position unless they are “reformed”.
If that is so, then Calvinists themselves need to eat their own pie and stop their endless critiques of Arminians. After all, Arminians need to be able to speak for themselves their own positions, do they not?
One final thought. It’s not pretty. Please forgive me in advance. Dr. Ascol closes his “passing thoughts” post about Dr. Vines’ message with these sobering words: “Dr. Vines' message screams for a response from denominational leaders who never hesitate to issue warnings to Southern Baptist Calvinists whom they label "Calvinazis" and charge with being more willing to fly across the country to debate Calvinism than to cross the street to witness to a lost person.”
That’s really nice. Interestingly, the last time I heard the little ditty about some Calvinists “being more willing to fly across the country to debate Calvinism than to cross the street to witness to a lost person” was during the dialog on Calvinism at the SBC in Greensboro. It was made by Dr. Al Mohler, as I recall, which drew a long applause from the mostly Calvinist participants including, I can only assume, Dr. Ascol himself, who was a part of that meeting.
Well then. Dr. Ascol thinks leaders in our denomination needs to “issue a warning” to Dr. Vines for his sermon at his home church, ay? I can only say this: if denominational leaders called me after I preached a sermon in my own church—a sermon they thought deserved a response—I would, without the least hesitation, affirm my deep love in the Lord for them and then politely tell them to kiss my butt.1
I trust your day is filled with God’s grace.
1I've often wondered about deleting this literary scrap of venacular since I probably wouldn't express myself this way now in a main post. Yet it's been on the internet many years now. Hence, there's not much scrubbing I could do with it...