The Calvinists: a Reply to Gerald Harris Part II

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The following is part II of a reply to Gerald Harris recently published the article “The Calvinists are here.” The article was published in The Christian Index, the Georgia Southern Baptist newspaper, of which Harris is the editor. If you have not read part I, follow this link to do so: The Calvinists: a Reply to Gerald Harris Part I.

Part II begins below by interacting with Harris’ article where part I ended.

The average Baptist who sits in a Sunday School class or a small Bible study group has depended on LifeWay to provide Bible study materials that are true to the Word of God and representative of historic Baptist theology. However, for bane or blessing LifeWay President Thom Rainer seems to have led the SBC literature-producing agency to become more and more Reformed in its theological content.

See the note in part I about LifeWay’s best-selling material from James MacDonald and Max Lucado. Also, under on LifeWay’s website under “LifeWay Select” one can find material by Ed Young, Jr. (more on Young later).

Harris then writes about NAMB’s recent On Mission magazine that “highlights several church planters, two of whom could be seen as Reformed in their theology.” I am not sure to what number “several” alludes for the church planters featured, but Harris picks out only two that may be Calvinists. Is featuring two Calvinist church planters out of several too many?

One planter, Won Kwak, is affiliated with Doctrines of Grace Church Planters who seek to plant sovereign grace churches. The other planter is Bland Mason, the pastor of City on a Hill. Harris doesn’t make an explicit point, but pointing out that these two church plants are Calvinistic insinuates that something is inherently problematic. Why?

I had the privilege of meeting Bland [Mason] in December and really like him. He is also the chaplain of the Boston Red Sox, which makes him particularly special to me.

Harris got to meet Mason whose position as chaplain of the Red Sox makes him special to Harris. Yet, he continues about Mason.

“We plant Southern Baptist churches that adhere to the Baptist Faith and Message and support the Cooperative Program.” Kevin Ezell, president North American Mission Board. Some have been critical of City on a Hill being featured in On Mission because it is also included on the Acts 29 Network website as one of its churches.

NAMB President Kevin Ezell recently explained that Mason’s church was recommended for inclusion in the magazine by the leadership of the Baptist Convention of New England, that Mason is a soul winner, and that the church is an ardent supporter of the Cooperative Program.

What Ezell mentioned about the Baptist Faith and Message and the Cooperative Program line-up with exactly with what City on a Hill church is doing. The state convention of New England recommended Mason and calls him a soul winner. Aren’t these the types of church planters that Southern Baptists desire? I’m sure the New England state convention knows Mason better than those on the outside. Why is the Acts 29 affiliation a problem? Harris does not say. Is there a specific charge against Mason or is this an insinuation that is supposed to lead the reader to think poorly of Mason?

Some contend that churches associated with the Acts 29 Network are anathema because of their identification with the Network’s founder and lead visionary, controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll. The Network is also admittedly evangelical, missional and Reformed in its approach to church planting.

Ah, maybe the real problem is Mark Driscoll or is it the claim of Acts 29 of being “evangelical, missional and Reformed?” Are individual SBC churches not allowed to be evangelical, missional or Reformed? Harris points out that Ezell is not concerned and neither “endorses nor criticizes” SBC churches involved with Acts 29. Ezell is concerned with the Cooperative Program and the Baptist Faith and Message. Might one deduce, based on Harris’ article, that Ezell is not doing his due diligence with churches affiliated with Acts 29? Is Ezell in stealth mode secretly promoting Acts 29 churches? What is Harris’ specific problem with Acts 29 affiliates?

More importantly, is it Calvinism’s fault that Driscoll is controversial?

Although Acts 29 only has 288 churches in its network in the U.S., Driscoll seems to have a significant influence in the lives of some Southern Baptists.

What constitutes significant influence by Driscoll in some Southern Baptist lives? Who are these Southern Baptists and how does Harris know? Is Driscoll’s influence positive or negative and what does this have to do with Calvinism?

It should be noted that Mark and Grace Driscoll have written a book entitled “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together.” The book has shocked conservatives with its graphic sexual descriptions and alarmed liberals because of its degradation of women.

Now Harris has jumps from Acts 29 to Mark Driscoll to Mark and Grace Driscolls’ latest book Real Marriage. He even quotes liberal blogger Rachel Held Evans’ opposition to Real Marriage with whom I would guess Harris has little in common theologically. Harris also cites Calvinistic Southern Baptist professor Denny Burk who wrote a highly critical review of Real Marriage. However, what does any of this have to do with Calvinism in the SBC?

The book [Real Marriage] would hardly be worth mentioning except for the fact that Southeastern Seminary President Danny Akin and his wife Charlotte endorsed it. In recent years Driscoll has been a chapel speaker at SEBTS and his influence at the seminary cannot be ignored.

Again, what does this book have to do with Calvinism in the SBC? Driscoll is at best a four-point Calvinist, yet he and his wife are not promoting Calvinism in their marriage book. Also, Danny Akin answered Harris in the above noted Baptist Press article as well as providing a more thorough response as to why he endorsed the book on the Between the Times blog.1 Whether or not one agrees with Akin’s endorsement of Real Marriage, I do not, the endorsement is simply not a Calvinist issue.

This is another case of connect-the-dots insinuations.

Let’s (dis)connect some dots.

Mark Driscoll claims to be a Calvinist, but the problems with Driscoll, from his language to overt sex talk and now his book Real Marriage, are not problems of Calvinism. While some Calvinists support Driscoll, others have not been silent in their criticisms. John MacArthur, for example, has arguably been one of Driscoll’s biggest critics.2 The ever popular Calvinist TeamPyro bloggers have also been highly critical of Driscoll.3

Harris’ has written that there is some concern about Driscoll’s influence among Southern Baptists. Speaking of concern, maybe Southern Baptists have some in-house issues to think about.

At about the same time Driscolls’ Real Marriage came out, the book Sexperiment, by SBC pastor Ed Young, Jr., and wife, Lisa debuted on the NY Times best sellers list.4 Young pastors an SBC mega-church with five campuses. He received a lot of flack for the stunts he used to promote his sex book. Young has also written books with his father, a past SBC president, that are featured on LifeWay’s site. Despite Young’s sex book, his SBC influence and connections, no one seems to be connecting the dots to his non-Calvinist theology as being a problem.

There are influential non-Calvinist SBC pastors connected with MacDonald and Driscoll. Jack Graham, who pastors the fourth largest SBC mega-church, Prestonwood Baptist Church with attendance of 14,323 and Perry Noble, who pastors NewSpring Church with attendance of 10,807.5 The attendance between these two churches alone speaks to an influence of over 25,000 Southern Baptists. Should Southern Baptists be concerned?

In 2011, Noble participated with Driscoll and MacDonald, among others, in the first Elephant Room. He defended his use of the song “Highway to Hell” in their Easter church service. Some Calvinists actually addressed Noble’s song choice for a worship service.6 Should Southern Baptists be concerned over Noble’s influence and non-Calvinism?

This year, 2012, Jack Graham participated in The Elephant Room II with Driscoll, MacDonald and T.D. Jakes.7 Graham and Jakes, whose theology and affiliations are questionable8, began partnering in ministry ministry 10 years ago.

In 2011, several Southern Baptists wrote letters of doctrinal concern about one of Jakes’ music ministers, Jamal Jones, who was to participate in the Pastors Conference.9 The end result was Jones withdrawal from the event. However, Graham is still a ministry affiliate of Jakes and Graham has even spoken at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Chapel all ready in 2012. Should Southern Baptists be concerned about the influence Graham may have over SWBTS students as well as Graham’s non-Calvinism?

Coming up in April 2012, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is again hosting the Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum where Roman Catholic philosopher/apologist Peter Kreeft is a featured panelist representing the Christian position.10 Should Southern Baptists be concerned about the potential Roman Catholic influence of its seminary students? The following quote is an example of Kreeft’s theology from an Amazon review.

There is one portion of this book that is truly bizarre. Mr. Kreeft claims to have had an out of body experience while surfing in Hawaii. During this experience, he “soul-surfed” and landed on a “Heavenly beach.” [p. 86] There, he met and spoke with Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed, and Moses. In the afterlife, all have become pious Roman Catholics. Nonetheless, Mohamed still teaches (and Kreeft appears to agree) that the Koran is “divine revelation.” [pp. 103-4] This stuff goes on for twenty-five pages. Mr. Kreeft purports that his recounting of this ecumenical beach party is in some sense “true.” [p. 86] No, I’m not making this up.11

If Harris is worried about negative influences in Southern Baptist life, then the dots I just connected should give him some things other than Calvinism to worry about. That is, unless, he sees Calvinism as the true root of all potential and real problems in the SBC. If so, Harris has yet to prove his case against Calvinism. Also, is he going to blame non-Calvinism for the potential problems in the above connections just made?

There is a growing perception that Southern Seminary has become a seedbed for a brand of Calvinism that is quite different from the Reformed theology of its founder, James Petigru Boyce, and also a training ground for Reformed church planters. Therefore, it appears that some of our institutions and agencies are giving, at the least, tacit approval to Reformed theology or are, at the most, actively on a path to honor, if not implement Reformed theology and methodology in their institutions.

It would be helpful if Harris would explain how this brand of Calvinism is different from Boyce’s brand. Should judgements be passed on perception alone when voicing concerns over whether or not a seminary is a “seedbed” for a certain brand of Calvinism? Can Harris prove his allegations about Southern and Calvinism? Maybe it is articles like Harris’ that give Southern Baptists the wrong perceptions about Southern. Even the NAMB/LifeWay studies cited by Harris show that it is not just Southern Seminary that is graduating Calvinists.

Harris’ assertions do not seem the best way to foster cooperative relationships in the SBC.

While most of the Reformed pastors and churchmen I know are gracious and godly people with a profound devotion to the Word of God, Southern Baptists must decide if they are satisfied with what I would call the presumable encroachment of Calvinism in SBC life.

If most Reformed Christians that Harris knows are such godly people then what is he worried about? Is he worried that Calvinism may get the credit for such godly Christians?

Let’s rephrase Harris’ words for consistency.

While most of the Reformed pastors and churchmen I know are gracious and godly people with a profound devotion to the Word of God, Southern Baptists must decide if they are satisfied with gracious and godly people with a profound devotion to the Word of God in SBC life.

By using Harris’ own description of Reformed pastors and churchmen to define what the encroachment of Calvinism in SBC life may look like, what is there to worry about?

Harris ends his article with the mention of a possible name change to the SBC. How the name change has anything to do with Calvinism is unclear like many of the connections Harris makes. Again, what is being insinuated by tacking on ruminations about a name change?

If that is the suggested name and if we dare vote for it to be our new appellation we dare not defame it with half-hearted evangelism and church plants that wither away in five years.

Has the SBC name been defamed with inflated church membership roles? How about the membership and giving declines in recent years? Southern Baptists may have half-hearted evangelism and failing church plants regardless of the name. Again, what does this have to do with Calvinism?

“To cooperate or not cooperate within the SBC?” is one question, but a better question may be, “Who is truly making a concerted effort to cooperate within the SBC?”

For what it’s worth…

Mark

P.s. The following questions were asked by a Georgia Southern Baptist pastor.

  1. Did Dr. White give approval to this editorial before it was published?
  2. If so, why risk the good will that was accomplished through the younger leaders meeting in October, especially in light of the fact that he knew that over half that room consisted of Calvinist pastors?
  3. If not, what does Dr. White think of this editorial and why not come out and immediately try to rebuild the bridges that may have been burned because of this editorial?
  4. Does Dr. White, after seeing this – whether or not he knew about it beforehand – worry about a further cutting of CP giving by Calvinist Pastors who may see this and lead their churches away from giving or away from giving more?  What of those like myself who may choose to forgo the CP to give directly to the Convention and its entities?

________________________

  1. Daniel Akin. “Why I Endorsed Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll and What I Disagree With.” Betweenthetimes.com
  2. Grace to You Driscoll search. gty.org
  3. Mark Driscoll label. TeamPyro.blogspot.com
  4. Stoyan Zaimov. Ed Young’s Controversial ‘Sexperiment’ Book Debuts on NY Times Best Sellers List. Christianpost.com
  5. Thom Rainer. Megachurches in the Southern Baptist Convention. thomrainer.com
  6. Phil Johnson. Highway to Hell. Teampyro.blogspot.com
  7. The Conversations—Round 2. theelephantroom.com
  8. Elephant Room II and TD Jakes’ Oneness Association
  9. Open Email: SBC Pastors’ Conference 2011 Doctrinal Concern
  10. Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum 2012 – A dialogue between Dr. Michael Shermer and Dr. Gary Habermas. SBCToday.com
  11. Ecumenical Jihad by Peter Kreeft. review on Amazon.com
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Martin February 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I am one of those who believe that Calvinism was, and is, an attempt to unravel Luther and the freedom and assurance of the Christian.

Calvinists are constantly looking inward for the assurance of their salvation.

That’s not salvation…but damnation.

My 2 cents.

2 Les February 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Great article Mark. You have quite successfully dismantled those who would defend Harris’ article.

Probably the best, and most telling, thing you point out is about Ed Young, Jr., Hack Graham and Roman Catholic philosopher/apologist Peter Kreeft.

Would that the anti-Calvinists would spend 1/10th their time dealing with these guys rather than attacking Calvinists!

3 Matthew February 21, 2012 at 12:04 am

Mark, good article. Steve Calvin would disagree with you:
“If we have been chosen in him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we conceive him as severed from his Son. Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election. For since it is into his body that the Father has destined those to be engrafted whom he has willed from eternity to be his own, that he may hold as sons all whom he acknowledges to be among his members, we have a sufficiently clear and firm testimony that we have been inscribed in the book of life (cf. Rev. 21:27) if we are in communion with Christ.” – Institutions of the Christian Religion, III.xxiv.5.

4 SAGordon February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Mark,

Good complete work.

I also note that there have not been any vociferous naysayers in your comment stream…at least from the usual suspects. Since I am no longer following said blogs, I’m left to wonder if they have chosen to ignore…or have posted on their sites…or simply have nothing by which to refute what you have said.

Maybe with such voices being less prevalent, the SBC has hope for a future of Gospel-centered cooperation.

Sola Gratia!

5 Mark February 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Matthew, I’m not exactly sure what point you are making, but I’m sure Steve Calvin would agree. 🙂

Scott, thanks for the encouragement. I hope the posts were edifying. You are right that there has not been much push back thus far. It may be kind of good because I have so much to do this week including getting our new house together. Maybe I can just stop sleeping for a week.

6 prchrbill February 22, 2012 at 2:11 am

@Steve Martin
1. Wrong
2. Probably same difference as looking to your water baptism for assurance.

my six cents

With that, I am…..
prchrbill

.

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