I am outside Atlanta, Georgia attending the John 3:16 Conference hosted by Jerry Vines Ministries at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Georgia. Dr. Vines said the Conference was intended to be "a theological assessment of, and response to, five-point Calvinism." I came to hear what Southern Baptist leaders were saying about this subject, but more importantly, to ensure that there was not an attempt to denigrate or exclude Southern Baptists who might hold to what some call the doctrines of grace. I was pleasantly surprised Thursday night to hear not only some good preaching, but very little denigration of those who hold to Calvinism in the SBC, and even a handful of compliments extended toward them. The Conference is being held in the chapel of FBC Woodstock which probably seats 1500 people, and concludes Friday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. eastern. This post will be a short evalutation of the first three speakers.
Johnny Hunt, Host Pastor and First Speaker
This is only my second time to hear Dr. Hunt preach, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Johnny is very articulate and has some tremendous skills as an orator. It is easy to see why thousands will come to hear him preach every week. He calls himself a country preacher, but his polish and passion would rival those of ancient Greece. His text was Psalm 119:33-40 and he titled his message "Leading With the End in Mind." After a brief introduction, Dr. Hunt broke the text into eight major petitions from the pen of the Psalmist.
I. A prayer for education (v. 33).
The Psalmist prays "Teach me your ways . . . and I will keep it to the end." Dr. Hunt explained that a commitment is made by the writer before the truth is revealed. Many Christians wish to know in order to debate, but the Psalmist wished to know in order to obey. Johnny said our emulation as pastors should match our exhortation, and he revealed that he himself attended Sunday School every Sunday and was taught by a layman in his church. Johnny pointed out that our churches would experience revival if we were as committed to obedience as the Psalmist.
Each point of Dr. Hunt's message was articulated clearly, faithful to the text and sprinkled with appropriate illustrations. His points included, II. A prayer for illumination (v. 34); III. A prayer for direction (v. 35); IV. A prayer for inclination (v. 36); V. A prayer for attention (v. 37); VI. A prayer for realization (v. 38); VII. A prayer for protection (v. 39); VII. A prayer for aspiration (v. 40).
Dr. Hunt did say what seems to be the obligatory word against bloggers who work on their computers instead of knocking on the doors of the lost, but all in all, he preached an excellent expositional message.
Dr. Jerry Vines, Conference Host and Second Speaker
Dr. Vines used John 3:16 as his text and preached for about an hour. He is a very eloquent speaker, and Dr. Hunt introduced him as one third of the great trifecta of modern expositional preachers: Stephen Olford, Adrian Rogers, and Jerry Vines. Dr. Vines' hair is quite a bit more gray than the last time I saw him, but his preaching is just as good as ever. He said in his introduction that John 3:16 is an anwer to the "isms" of this world.
"For God" -- is an answer to Atheism.
"So Loved" -- is an answer to Fatalism.
"The World" -- is an answer to Nationalism.
"He Gave" -- is an answer to Agnosticism.
"His Only Begotten Son" -- is an answer to Mohammedism.
"That Whosoever" -- is an answer to Calvinism.
"Believeth in Him" -- is an answer to Legalism.
"Should Not Perish" -- is an answer to Annihilationism.
"But Have Everlasting Life" -- is an Answer to Arminianism.
Dr. Vines then gave us a four point outline of John 3:16 describing God's love.
First, God's love is global. Second, God's love is sacrificial. Third, God's love is personal. Finally, God's love is eternal. His message was excellent, and like Dr. Hunt's message before him, it was true to the text. Dr. Vines used a number of Greek references in his messages, from the text, so his message was exegetical as well. My favorite statement from his message was "Some people call me a Calvinistic when I preach one text, and some people call me an Arminian when I preach another text. I simply preach the text and let the chips fall where they may." I gave a hearty amen to that statement, and hope that the same could be said of my preaching.
If there is one thing I felt Dr. Vines sought to emphasize, it was that the word "whosoever" in the Greek is the Greek word 'pas' which is used 1228 times in the New Testament, and it means "anyone, anywhere, anytime." It includes "the whole and every part of" the world. Again, I have never met a Calvinist who would disagree. The "whosoever" of John 3:16 is modified by "believes," and "anyone, anywhere, anytime" who believes in Christ has eternal life. The million dollar question is "what causes a man to believe?" The third and final speaker of the night sought to answer that question.
Paige Patterson, the Third Speaker: 'Total Depravity.'
Paige Patterson was the first of what Dr. Vines called "the scholars" who will present messages to respond to each of the five points of Calvinism. Dr. Patterson's assignment was to review total depravity. He read a lengthy text from Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 3:9-26, and after a few introductory remarks, he said the purpose of his message was to answer three questions regarding depravity including, "What does depravity mean?" and, "How does depravity come about?" and finally, "What can a dead man do?"
I really enjoyed Dr. Patterson's message. He is funny and self-deprecating. I found myself laughing out loud on several occasions. I enjoyed his message as much as I did the previous two, and there was really just a couple of statements in Dr. Patterson's message with which I disagreed.
First, in answering the second question - "How does depravity come about?" - Dr. Patterson gave his personal opinion that no human being is born guilty before God because of Adam's sin, but we are all condemened for our own sins. Dr. Patterson's view seems to me to be a direct violation of the teaching of Romans 5, and the truth that all men (and women) are condemned for the sin of one man (Adam). I hope to be able to ask him a question about this in the Question and Answer time Friday afternoon, for I find that those who struggle with the idea that we are condemned for the sin of the first Adam often wind up denying that we are saved solely by the obedience of the Last Adam.
In addition, in answering the last question - "What can a dead man do?" - Dr. Patterson said that a dead man can believe. He then used Abraham and Romans 3 as an illustration of a dead man (in terms of child bearing) who "contrary to hope, in hope believed" and gave birth to a son when it was impossible. Abraham is an example of what a dead man can do. Dr. Patterson said that the sinner is really just sin sick, not dead as we consider dead, in that it is possible for that sinner to believe. So, according to Dr. Patterson's view, eternal life follows faith - and faith is within the ability of all those the Bible calls spiritually dead. Thus, the idea that regeneration (life) precedes faith is unnecessary in Dr. Patterson's view of salvation. These two points of disagreement may be major to some of my Calvinist friends, but they are minor to me, since without doubt, the gospel was preached by Dr. Patterson.
In addition, to Dr. Patterson's credit, he gave a pat on the back to those he calls his Calvinistic pastor friends in the Southern Baptist Convention. He said that at least they were "preaching the Word" in the pulpit, which is more than can be said of most pulpits in the United States. Dr. Patterson, along with Dr. Vines and Dr. Hunt, all disagree with most of the five points of Calvinism, but one must give them credit for acknowledging that some Southern Baptists disagree with them, and as long as both sides go about preaching the Word and the gospel, Southern Baptists ought to be able to cooperate for the sake of the Kingdom.
I appreciate the John 3:16 Conference and commend the men speaking for their passion to preach the Word of God. I will try place my thoughts on the second day of the John 3:16 Conference sometime Saturday.
In His Grace,