Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An Open Letter for Unity in the SBC by a Young, Restless, and Reformed Minister

An Open Letter for Unity in the SBC
by a Young, Reformed, and Restless Minister

    There has been much buzz in the virtual world concerning the newest confessional document promoted by my non-Calvinist brothers. There have been many great responses to this document. Some were rightly cautioning fellow Calvinists (Reformed) to be respectful and gracious such as this response here. Whether you agree with this document or its criticisms, I believe we must strive for greater unity within our denomination despite our differences. Regardless of our disagreements, we have much common ground.
     I am well aware that there are resources available for many within our convention to obtain an understanding about us Young, Restless and Reformed. Unfortunately, there is still much confusion concerning who we are and what we desire within the Southern Baptist Convention. There are 5 things that every non-Calvinist should know about us and 5 suggestions to my fellow Young, Restless and Reformed brethren to keep in mind in order to work towards unity within our denomination. Yes, they are grouped in five points... typical Calvinist.

5 Things Every Non-Calvinist Should Know about the Young, Restless, and Reformed in the SBC

1. We are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture. 
      We are the product of a biblical renaissance. Many of us have come to our convictions not through reading John Calvin, but by submitting to the authority of Scripture and allowing it to shape our thinking rather than the reverse. Many of us within SBC circles have done this in institutional environments (mine was Southwestern) that stress the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. I am grateful to the leaders within our convention who worked faithfully to promote the authority and inerrancy of the Word of God. This foundation has created a commitment among young aspiring ministers to seek out strong exegetical preaching and do likewise. We love the Bible and seek to have a biblical theology and worldview, not to adopt some flawed man's system.

2. We are committed to evangelism.
     Please do not let a stereotypical understanding of our theology color your view of what we believe. It is not the theology of Calvinism that leads to the decline of missions. One could use the same argument of trajectory in the history of Calvinism and apply it to the history of Arminian theology. It would produce the same end result. Over time many within the Arminian tradition turned towards universalism. Whether you are an Arminian, a Calvinist, or something in between, what undermines missions is a low view of the gospel and of the Bible. Sin is the underlying problem, not the doctrine of election. Calvinism rightly understood always leads toward evangelism and missions. Non-Calvinists brothers, we stand beside you in your commitment to evangelism and missions. Though you may disagree with Calvinism, please strive to understand its theology from its own proponents rather than its caricature before you question its commitment to evangelism.

3. We are not an organized movement.
     Those who are Young, Restless and Reformed are not like our parent's or our grandparent's generation. For good or for ill we are post-modern. We are not doggedly committed to any institution or organization. We are passionate about ideals and truth. Yes, there are organizations like Desiring God, Acts29, Together For the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and The Founders Ministry with which many of us affiliate with for the sake of camaraderie, while remaining in the SBC. Not one of these organizations or the individuals within them speak for us as a whole and it is a mistake to assume otherwise. This is a grassroots movement that is larger than our own denomination. It does not originate with a particular person or ministry. We like to network, not organize with aspirations for some kind of takeover. Our cause is Christ, not denominationalism. While our denominational distinctives are important to us, they are not primary. We are looking to a place to belong where we are made to feel welcome. We desire a place where we can unite around a common cause, "the proclamation of Christ crucified." Community is a high priority for young people today. Though the discussion taking place in our convention is not intended to create disunity, the tone of the conversation should be guarded with love. As is typical of our generation, we are not going to fight for place in an organization. We vote with our feet. If made to feel unwelcome we will simply leave quietly and find somewhere else where we are welcome. This is not a threat but a generational characteristic (for good or bad) that should be understood by our elders.

4. We are not the enemy (a.k.a. the next threat on the horizon for the SBC).
       We are not the next big threat to the Southern Baptist Convention. Our theology, rightly understood, does not undermine evangelism and missions. If there are those who misunderstand it and try to use it to excuse their abandonment of evangelism and missions, we would stand with our non-Calvinist brothers in rejecting, rebuking, and correcting such unbiblical thinking. To consider our movement as the next big threat is a dire mistake. Right now there are other movements outside and inside our denomination threatening to undermine our commitment to biblical truths that Calvinist and non-Calvinist hold in common. The social gospel, after a century of slumber, has now resurfaced in popularity to threaten the definition of the gospel, evangelism, and missions. Arm-in-arm with this movement, a post-modern liberalism is growing in its influence on young people within evangelical churches. Both were birthed from pragmatism which reduced the Scriptures to a self-help book replacing its message of the Good News with "good advice." This post-modern liberalism and social gospel are a reaction to this pragmatism. They seek to find something meaningful and bigger than ourselves in the church and in Scripture, but they do so through Gnostic means. This liberalism teaches people to look inward at their experiences and trust their intuition even if it is contrary to what is clearly taught in Scripture. The social gospel appeals to those who have rejected their parents' faith which they saw as hypocritical. They seek to do something to change the world instead of just talking about it. These movements value action, but devalue biblical doctrine. Then there is the insider movement which, in my opinion, is beginning to threaten a biblical view of cross-cultural missions within our own denomination. On top of all of this, our society has increasingly become hostile to our social views and who knows how long they will tolerate our rejection of their values. There are so many threats to a biblical, gospel-centered, mission focused Christianity. Please do not cut off your nose to spite yourself. We need you, non-Calvinist to stand beside us in defense of the gospel and we wish to stand beside you. 

5. Some are defensive (a.k.a. "angry Calvinist"). Please take the time to know why.
     We are young men. Young men are easily moved towards anger. In time, as the Spirit through the Word transforms our heart and attitudes, we will grow in patience, love, and grace. I pray that I am not seen as an angry Calvinist. To be fair many are frustrated, upset, defensive, and... well... angry. I have been there. Not that it is right by any means, but our elder non-Calvinists should take time to understand why. At the same time, these young men need to learn to be gracious and loving in their response to critics. They need to realize that most non-Calvinist are not speaking out of combative and dishonest motives. I think clearer and more loving communication on both sides of the issue would go a long way towards unity. If we all would assume the best intentions and motives of our brothers with whom we disagree, then we could talk civilly with one another and accomplish more together despite our differences. Please be gracious to us as we encourage our brothers to do likewise. We love the church, the Word, and the gospel. If we can agree on the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, we can work together.

5 Suggestions to my fellow Young, Restless, and Reformed in the SBC
1. Have integrity concerning where you are theologically.
      It is in vogue to refuse to wear labels. This sounds humble but is actually quite arrogant. If you hold to something, embrace the term that describes the theology to which you hold. Please don't present yourself as above wearing a label.  I can also understand the reluctance to out yourself as a Calvinist not out of cowardice or intentional deceitfulness, but a desire to focus on the common cause we have as Baptist. I have been there and have done this. I must say that if you are looking for a place to serve in ministry it is better to be upfront about your theology. Many churches don't have a clue what you even mean if you said you were Calvinist, so look at it as an opportunity to teach. If the church or lead pastor will not hire you because of your theology, then you would not be satisfied serving there anyway. I am not encouraging Calvinist to wear their theology on their sleeve or to carry the banner of Calvinism higher or as high as their banner for Christ. I am advocating that we are honest and open about where we are theologically. If you get push back, then see it as an opportunity to demonstrate grace in the same manner Christ has shown you grace and to grow in winsome, loving polemics.

2. Be grace filled in your dialogue with non-Calvinists.
    Do not play into the stereotype of the angry Calvinist. If you understand that you were effectually called by God because of no merit of your own, let it humble you. The Doctrines of Grace should move you, as the Spirit drives these biblical realities into your heart, to be gracious with those you disagree with. Let the love of Christ and your love for fellow believers guard your speech, attitude, and actions. Repent and seek to restore relationships with those you have alienated intentionally or unintentionally. Our ministry is one of reconciliation seeing men reconciled to God and in doing so seeing men reconcile with one another. We ought to be about reconciling with our brothers in Christ, especially those with whom we have a common ground in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

3. Please do not throw the baby out with the bath water.
   Just because some folks in the SBC are not with you theologically, it does not mean that they have nothing to offer your ministry. Allow non-Calvinist pastors and leaders to speak wisdom into your life and ministry. Of course  you are going to filter certain theological differences, but realize that there are men who have lived longer and served faithfully in ministry longer than you have been alive. These men do have wisdom to impart to us and we owe men like these our respect. Build relationships with men who are non-Calvinist in ministry. Find ways to work together in missions and evangelism with these pastors.

4. Receive criticism well.
     There will always be those who will throw stones. Sometimes criticism is unfounded. More often than not there is a kernel of truth we can take away from criticism to repent of, to guard ourselves against, and to refine our communication. There have been several instances where I found that people had not rejected Calvinism because of its doctrine but because of the attitude of the Calvinist they had meet. I was able to lovingly approach these folks and have a hearing because their criticisms of Calvinists reminded me to watch my words and attitude closely. Some of these very people who were turned off to Calvinism because of Calvinist they had met are now Calvinist today. Others are not but at least they have a proper understanding of Calvinism and respect it despite their difference of theology. Many of the best argued biblical criticisms of Calvinism forced me to reexamine Scripture and re-access my convictions making be more confident in what the Bible teaches. The key in receiving criticism well is not taking it personally. Your identity is not in your theological system, but in Jesus Christ who died for you.

5. Continue in your commitment to evangelism and missions.
     Many non-Calvinist do not travel in our circles. They are not aware of the huge church planting push that has sprung up among our ranks. We must continue to preach the gospel and make disciples locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. The only thing that will silence the criticism of our theology in its regards to missions is action. Honestly, even then there will still be those who refuse to acknowledge reality and will continue to criticize. We must be faithful with what has been entrusted unto us, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This movement is not going away anytime soon. Do not get pulled into the "us" verses "them" mentality. We are one in Christ and our mission as the body of Christ is the same. As long as I am permitted to do so, I want to be united with my fellow SBC churches in supporting the International Mission Board and The North American Mission Board towards the goal of making disciples among every tribe, tongue, and nation. Please continue to do likewise.

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