Southern Baptists Building Bridges: Reflections

The Building Bridges Conference was a great experience. By now most people probably know that the audio is online at and presentations are available at Ed Stetzer’s blog. I would have gotten to this sooner, but I could not get my friends router to connect with my wireless card. I decided not to try to live blog once I found out the audio would be available online. I am thankful for this since I could not do justice to the actual presentations. Not to mention the limited space that I needed to keep my laptop plugged in. I know at least one person was blogging which you can reference. I’m just going to give some thoughts on the various speakers and the overall experience.

It was a great time of fellowship. I had the pleasure of meeting Greg Welty, Nathan Finn, Tom Ascol, Danny Akin, Malcolm Yarnell and other fellow bloggers CB Scott, Bob Cleveland, Les Puryear and Tim Rogers. It was nice to have short chats with these brothers and finally get to put faces and voices with their words. It was also nice to see and talk to Ed Stetzer again.

When I met Dr. Akin and Dr. Yarnell I said, “I am a non-angry, Calvinist blogger” and they chuckled. To Dr. Akin I expressed my appreciation for his work in this area. To Dr. Yarnell I told him that I didn’t appreciate everything he said, but I did appreciate most of it. And I thanked them both.

Day 1

I arrived about 20 minutes late just in time to hear Ed Stetzer wrap up his presentation on the first day. He informed me once I got to say hello that his presentation material was all online. I’m sure most of you all ready found this out. I appreciate the work Ed does and the information he provides us all towards the betterment of our churches.

David Dockery and Tom Nettles

David Dockery spoke very fairly about the historic theological positions of the SBC. His basic position was that both Calvinist and non-Calvinist positions have been represented in our history. We need to understand this and accept one
another and work together.

Tom Nettles presented a much important history. He was tough to keep up with as he barely paused and provided us with much historical information. These two men kicked things off with the historical record to start us on the road to understanding the mixture of theology in the SBC.

James Merritt and Albert Mohler

James Merritt started well. He claimed to believe in election, but not predestination in the Calvinist sense. He finished story of how the Lord allowed him to lead a man to Christ on the flight up here. We rejoiced! But then the hammer came down. He basically said that is what we are to be doing is sharing the Gospel, but if we want to argue about these doctrines then he’ll not be part of it. I heard what seemed to be a bit of anger or frustration in his voice. I appreciated most of his presentation, but when he finished in that way which seemed to be to draw us in and then implicitly accuse Calvinists of
just wanting to argue. Though I understand what he was getting at and heed his warning, I just want to say that we aren’t arguing with ourselves. This certainly turned a few of us off as we really couldn’t figure out where this came from. I appreciated his willingness to work together with Calvinists. His presence alone tells us that he loves us, accepts us and will stand with us for the sake of Christ. And since he is practically down the street from me I’d have no problem discussing things over coffee or evangelizing with him.

Al Mohler opened by telling us that Merritt has ADD and that’s why he isn’t a five pointer. To paraphrase, “T for total depravity, U for unconditional election….hey…look at that butterfly…” That got a good roar of laughter. My thinking is that Mohler was referring to Merritt sort of jumping around a bit in his presentation. That’s just a guess though. These two guys are great friends as I understand so it may be an old joke.

Day 2

Malcolm Yarnell and Jeff Noblit

Malcolm Yarnell said somethings I didn’t appreciate such as which was bringing up Servetus and mentioning someone using Calvinism as a reason to divorce his wife. Even my wife couldn’t believe this was said when I called her and gave her a run down. Imagine the grief I’d get if I equated a non-Calvinists understanding of free-will to that of Roman Catholics and said to beware their theology. It’s just not a valid reason.

I do appreciate Dr. Yarnell being there and being willing to engage and promote this cause.

Also, Dr. Yarnell started to say something about John Piper, but stopped and told us we would have to read it in his paper. We’ll see if Piper answers. Here it is.

Piper’s Desiring God Ministries placed three evangelism tracts on the web for
distribution. The first tract is noticeable for its elevation of Piper’s “Christian hedonism.” Although Piper must be lauded for injecting divine glory into a gospel presentation, it caters to rather than challenges our narcissistic culture: “God gets the praise and we get he pleasure.” Piper, busily promoting peculiarities, never discusses the person of Jesus Christ. And when asking what the believer must do, he points them to a church, but neglects to exhort them to follow Christ in baptism, as the Great Commission teaches.
In the second tract, Piper correctly discusses Jesus Christ at length, alongside his passion for glory, but passes quickly over sin and never issues a call for the sinner to believe in Jesus Christ. In the third tract, Piper issues a call for faith in Christ, but the tract is written for the struggling believer rather than the lost person.

Jeff Noblit’s presentation/sermon was off the charts! It’s interesting that Yarnell mentioned that the New Hampshire confession isn’t Calvinistic. Then, Pastor Noblit said that he holds to said confession and is accused of being a raging Calvinist. You’ve got to hear this sermon. It would be great if more preached the Gospel with such clarity and passion.

David Nelson and Sam Waldron

David Nelson gave a very fair presentation. He is one who is not in favor of pragmatism at all. My guess is that many of those in the SBC who aren’t too familiar with theology would confuse him for being somewhat Calvinistic. He understood that everyone limits the atonement in some way. He had a strong view of the atonement and its importance. He asked about common grace and the “why” evangelize question. He said we are in danger of losing the Gospel and our people are turning to charlatans like John Hagee and Joel Osteen. We can quote him on that…”charlatans”. I really appreciated what he had to say.

Sam Waldron gave a presentation both presenting proofs for particular redemption as well as answering some objections. His whole outline is worth downloading for reference. My favorite answer was to the objection of why evangelize if the atonement is limited. He said because we don’t call someone to believe in a certain theory of the atonement. We call them to Jesus Christ. Amen!

Charles Lawless and Nathan Finn

Charles Lawless addressed misconceptions some Calvinists have with non-Calvinists. He affirms the Abstract of Principles without holding to TULIP. I still don’t understand how when I hear this. He did quote some nasty blog comments by Calvinists. We need to clean that up.

Nathan Finn is the man! He addressed misconceptions non-Calvinists have with Calvinists. He did what I hoped someone would do. He named names with documentation. Even SBC President Frank Page. He was of course gracious, but said what needed to be said.

Ken Keathley and Greg Welty

Ken Keathley the Molinist! What more can I say there are so many choices? He compared the closeness of infralapsarianism with molinism. I’m not sure how many were ready to hear about molinism. Tom Ascol later asked how many laymen were there and about half of us raised our hands. Then he asked who knew what molinism was and only me and one other person, I believe, kept their hand up.

Greg Welty who I chatted with a couple times actually recognized my face from my blog comments. He is such a nice and humble guy not to mention smart too. He addressed unconditional election laying out the arguments. If you’ve ever read his work you would know that 45 minutes is just enough time to get through the first paragraph of his papers. He so thorough and does so well defending his positions. I challenge any baptist to read and learn his defenses of believers baptism as well as his other papers.

J.D. Greear and Donald Whitney (subbing for an ill Voddie Baucham)

I missed this part since I wasn’t spending the night on site and had to drive to a friends house every night. We were both very tired and needed some rest.

Day 3

Ed Stetzer opened with a warning about misrepresenting others’ positions and being more charitable. Good words!

Q&A time

There is much to go through in this so I’ll be brief. The audio should be up soon anyways. I submitted two questions which didn’t get picked. There was several minutes of discussion on being careful with the altar call and the sinner’s prayer. Comments of the potential sacramentalism was brought up about the prayer. The Calvinists weren’t alone in this as the Molinist agreed as well as another non-Calvinist. Listen to Danny Akin tell us that Malcolm Yarnell didn’t really answer a particular question. Many of us agreed.

One thing that saddened me was a couple of the questions which could have been asked early on. It would seem that some of the answers would be apparent if one had been to all the sessions. At least we’re making strides or is it baby steps? Either way I pray we are moving forward.

Tom Ascol and Danny Akin

Collectively, both messages should be heard by these two men. The very essence of what they are calling for goes beyond a particular theology to the larger scope of the SBC. If nothing else, copies of these two messages should be made and distributed. Not only will this dog hunt, but he will complete the mission.

I have to give a huge thanks to my friends John and Shannon for so graciously hosting me. I finally got to see their new house and visit with them again. Their pastor was awesome too! Such a great, kind hearted guy. He bought Tom Schreiner’s newest book on baptism for me which I highly appreciate.

Through my friends above I met a couple of guys in a new church plant that have an interesting ministry in their church. I will be blogging about them soon hoping to garner some support for them. It’s unsolicited idea I approached them with so we’ll see how it goes. Their ministry is in a very down trodden part of town and much different than so many of us are used to. Hopefully, I will get to this soon.

Let us pray together asking for God’s grace as we build.


in Arminianism,calvinism,Church Issues,Culture,Evangelism,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ken Temple November 29, 2007 at 12:15 pm

Thank you Mark for this, thanks for mentioning it over at James Swan’s blog. I enjoy his blog and would not have noticed your blog unless you had linked it. Very good comments and summaries.

Where are the messages by James Merritt and Al Mohler? If you had not mentioned them; I would not have known they even spoke.

They are not on the Lifeway podcasts of the Conference. Do you know Why?

2 johnMark November 29, 2007 at 2:07 pm


I got an email back from Lifeway and they did not get those two presentations recorded. I will have to look at my notes and see how much I wrote and what I can remember.



3 Greg Welty November 29, 2007 at 7:14 pm

Hey Mark,

Thanks so much for your encouragement. It was great to finally meet you! Like I’ve told many people, I really regret not having more time to fellowship with the conference attenders. I’m sure we’ll meet up again, hopefully soon.

4 Ken Temple November 30, 2007 at 9:19 am

Thanks Mark,
I live in the Atlanta, Ga. area also.
Ken Temple

5 johnMark November 30, 2007 at 9:30 am

Hi Greg,

You’re welcome and I do appreciate your contributions to helping us all build relationship in the Convention. Hopefully, at another time and place we certainly can fellowship.


Great, I didn’t know you were close by. We’ll have to keep in touch.


6 Great Commission Unity November 30, 2007 at 10:18 am

I’m glad to hear that there has been a produc tive discussion. I was unaware of this conference, but it sounds like it was handled in a godly manner. Though this discussion and debate will always persist, I hope that we can find enough agreement based on Scripture and the core of the gospel that we can bury the hatchet from arguments over extra biblical theological minutia. If God had intended for us to have a simple 5 point system to box in his truth, Jesus could have easily allowed another inspired chapter in scripture. I am a Biblicist and believe it is time to focus on what is clear from Scripture and realize there are some areas godly people may interpret differently based on their experience, training, or adherence to a particular system as their lense for truth. God has called us all to a great communision in which we can unite for the glory of Christ, while trusting God to know how he is accomplishing the work of the gospel in people’s souls. I’ll do what I’m called to, and trust the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ on the cross to be sufficient to accomplish God’s purpose regardless of my ability to comprehend the bredths of God’s salvific work. Let us walk in the peace of Christ and let the gospel banner be our only war cry before a lost world.

7 Bill Nettles November 30, 2007 at 4:29 pm

If God had intended for us to have a simple 5 point system to box in his truth, Jesus could have easily allowed another inspired chapter in scripture.

Why do you have the idea that anyone thinks God’s truth is boxed into a simple 5-point system? It is that kind of disinformation that distracts from working together with people who differ in the details of soteriology.

And if some of the details of God’s work in salvation are so unimportant, why did Jesus give us Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Ephesians, among others?

I’ll do what I’m called to, and trust the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ on the cross to be sufficient to accomplish God’s purpose regardless of my ability to comprehend the bredths of God’s salvific work.

I agree, and I’m going to study the inspired Scripture that I HAVE been given to fully appreciate God’s work when He does it.

8 Tim Rogers December 1, 2007 at 8:12 am

Brother Mark,

It was a pleasure meeting you. I do wish we could have spent more time together.


9 johnMark December 1, 2007 at 11:24 am

Brother Tim,

It was also a pleasure meeting you. So many of us wish we could have fellowshipped more and that’s so tough to do with a full schedule over a few days. Maybe another time.

Grace to you,

10 Shamgar December 4, 2007 at 11:24 pm

I appreciated your post. I had planned on listening eventually anyway but after you comments I went and got Noblit’s right away. You are absolutely correct about the quality of his presentation.

As a member of a nominally calvinistic church going through its own struggles similar to the ones his church went through it was both a great blessing, and very convicting, to listen to. There is much we still have to do, and I appreciated his comments – and you for pointing it out specifically.


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