For two days earlier this week (June 11-12), 5,100 Southern Baptist messengers filled the halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. For those two days, plus the preceding days of the Pastor’s Conference, pastors, convention leaders, and other missions-minded Baptists heard reports and discussed numerous issues ranging from the Boy Scouts, to church planting, to finding ways to work together to reach the lost with the message of the gospel.
As Dave Miller, Second Vice President of this year’s SBC, has observed there was a sweet, unified Spirit. Few were the public disagreements; plenty were the calls for prayer, Great Commission advancement, strategic use of finances, and the willingness to work together for the sake of the lost.
As always, it was a joy to visit with old friends and to meet new ones. Still the thing that was most outstanding during these days was the unified spirit expressed by Calvinism Advisory Committee. Leading up to the convention much speculation was offered concerning what this nineteen-person committee would report to the SBC. It is with great joy to see the consensus statement, Truth, Trust, Testimony in a Time of Tension, issued a few weeks ago. At the convention, this optimism was furthered by watching the way that these “alpha males” (Frank Page’s words, not mine) and one lady worked together with charity and passion for the gospel.
Therefore, as I lay out some of the highlights from the convention, please excuse the focus on this report and its effects. It was to me, and others I spoke with, a great source of encouragement. To see Eric Hankins and Paige Patterson working with Mark Dever and Albert Mohler is a model for the rest of us. I pray that the effect of their statement and Houston’s convention may bear lasting fruit for the sake of the gospel. Accordingly, we list their Q & A first and follow with the other highlights.
- Just before lunch on Monday, twelve of the nineteen members of the Calvinism Advisory Team met for a Q & A. During this time, the audience was invited to ask questions, and over the course of an hour, it was evident that the very diverse group had a genuine care for each other and desire to see soteriological Calvinists and Traditionalists (non-Calvinists) work together for the advancement of the gospel. To date there is not an audio of that event, but there is a Baptist Press article that nicely summarizes a number of the key responses.
- Contrast this diversified but unified group with the Baptist Twenty-One interview conducted with President of Louisana College (LC), Joe Aguillard. At the request of this embroiled President, John Akin spent close to an hour asking some hard-hitting questions about the hiring practices and firing decisions at LC. He discussed the sufficiency of the Baptist Faith & Message 2000, who has the right to determine its interpretation, and the nature of hyper-Calvinism. If you are looking for clear answers to each question, you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking to find out why the school is experiencing such trouble with Calvinism, the interview will make it plain. Fortunately, the negative and often unintelligible sentiments expressed by President Aguillard were drowned out by the clearer and more charitable sentiments of men like Eric Hankins and Albert Mohler.
- Another point of great cooperation and consensus was found in the Baptist 21 luncheon. In this panel discussion between R. Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, David Platt, and Matt Carter, my friend Jedidiah Coppenger asked questions ranging from the challenges of ‘gay marriage’ and the recent decision of the Boy Scouts to disciple-making in the local church. He also handled the subject of Calvinism in the SBC, where Dr. Mohler gave an impassioned articulation that hyper-Calvinism has no place in the SBC. He clarified that hyper-Calvinism is not the same an over-zealous brand of Calvinism (‘hyper’ Calvinism). Rather, hyper-Calvinism, historical defined, is a person who refuses to make a universal offer of the gospel. As Danny Akin would later say in his SBC sermon, unwillingness to share the gospel is the result of aberrant theology—regardless if it is Calvinistic or Traditionalist. Therefore, in this panel discussion there was real engagement with some challenges facing Baptists, and a unanimous commitment to sharing the gospel. (Baptist 21 hopes to have the video of this luncheon up next week; stay tuned here).
- This spirit of cooperation was evidenced in the convention, but it was also evidenced by individuals who signed the statement. For instance, Tom Ascol gives four reasons why he is encouraged by the statement. Likewise, Albert Mohler penned this reflections and hope for this statement. In the convention itself, President Fred Luter was extremely gracious (just remember how he handled an impassioned mega-church pastor from Arkansas), and Frank Page’s posture towards the Calvinism discussion was exemplary. Truth be told, I am so encouraged by the way that he has led this group. His desire for a unity and cooperation was evident in the discussion on Monday and on the platform when he announced the results of the Advisory Committee (to see that presentation go the SBC Convention page, select Tuesday Afternoon, look for Frank Page’s session, scroll to 13:13-21:00). Southern Baptists have great reason to give thanks for our “Chief Encouragement Officer.”
- Still, the top report—in my opinion—was that of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee (ERLC). The report came in two parts. First, retiring ERLC president, Richard Land, reflected on his years of service. This was followed by a video montage that wonderfully captured the effect of this man’s twenty-five year service. This was only exceeded by Russell Moore’s opening report as the newly-appointed president of the ERLC. This message, coupled with his Q & A on Tuesday night, gives me great hope for the cultural engagement that Southern Baptists will embark upon in the next twenty-five years. As an aside, you can witness Moore’s even-handed approach to religious liberty and the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in his article, “Why Calvinists and Arminians (and those in between) Can Unite for Religious Liberty.”
- Finally, Danny Akin’s message, “Six Marks of a Great Commission People,” reinforced the week’s theme: We must be unified in our passion for the gospel and the communication of this gospel to all people—especially those with no access to the gospel. This message closed the convention, and fittingly it gave all the messengers a clear call to go and make disciples of all nations. As always, this is why Southern Baptists unite. We are a Great Commission people, and I pray that the meetings, messages, and appointments that filled this week will serve to advance the gospel in the next 365 days.
All in all, the week was filled with highlights. I am sure I left some out. Next year’s convention is in Baltimore, and it is already on my calendar. I hope you will check out some of these highlights listed above and plan to join us next June.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss