I was fielding questions on Calvinism long before I became a state missionary. The topic was frequently discussed in classrooms where I taught, the churches where I served as pastor, and even around the dinner table in my own home. Some may think it strange that so many conversations are generated by the teachings of a theologian who has been dead for a few centuries but that is an inadequate understanding of the issue.
These frequent discussions have little to do with a dead theologian but much to do with a living faith. They center on the most pressing issues for every human being in every place and every age. These are discussions about the nature of God and His work in the world, about sin and salvation, heaven and hell. To say these discussions are irrelevant may suggest, at least in my view, that God is irrelevant.
Thus, I am not surprised that the conversations and debates continue. Nor am I surprised that, in a day when Southern Baptists are openly expressing their commitment to a high view of Scripture, the conversations and debates have intensified. Instead of debating the gray areas of our postmodern world, we debate the tensions found in the eternal Word.
God’s absolute sovereignty and humanity’s responsibility and freedom are among those points of tension. For hundreds upon hundreds of years, the Church’s finest thinkers, most zealous evangelists and missionaries, and most gifted pastors have addressed this tension and sought to make clear statements about how to understand and reconcile these deep truths so essential to the gospel. In Baptist circles today, this ongoing struggle is typically reduced to a simple but loaded question, “So, what do you believe about Calvinism?”
Just yesterday, I received yet another call from a pastor search committee chairman who was trying to understand how the issues of Calvinism are relevant to his assignment. The constant chatter, prevailing misunderstandings, and inaccurate caricatures surrounding these discussions convince me that we need to make intentional and ongoing efforts to educate people on the history, biblical issues, and practical implications of the debate.
To that end, you are invited to join me for “Calvinism: Concerned? Curious? Confused?” a conference hosted by the Kentucky Baptist Convention. I hope we will have significant participation from Kentucky Baptists in particular and Southern Baptists in general.
My goal is for conference attendees to walk away with:
- a better understanding of our historical and current beliefs
- a greater appreciation for those who may hold differing positions on this issue
- a commitment to work together, speaking and acting with charity.
We want to present a balanced perspective and illustrate how four Bible-believing scholars can arrive at rational but sometimes differing positions on these finer points of theology and remain committed to working together as Southern Baptists.
David Dockery will launch the conference with a two-part lecture on the history of Baptist theology, noting the progression from Reformed theology to a modified Calvinism, and explaining the current resurgence of interest in Reformed theology.
Next, we will listen in on a dialogue between two leaders of differing positions: Hershael York and Steve Lemke. Both men are astute theologians who have engaged this debate in many different settings.
The conference will also include a question and answer time with our panel of presenters that should help us grow in our appreciation for how these issues should be addressed in the local church.
Finally, Frank Page will offer his vision for how Southern Baptists can walk together in unity while holding differing positions on Calvinism. A time of prayer, in the spirit of John 17:22-23, will bring the conference to a close.
I do hope you will join us on Saturday, August 4 at Crestwood Baptist Church in Oldham County. You can find more details register online at http://www.kybaptist.org/calvinism.