Singing the TULIP from the Baptist Hymnal

baptist

One of the saddest effects of the Calvinism debate among Southern Baptists has been the way the discussion about predestination, etc. has moved from the realm of praise to that of polemics. Truly, the faith we hold must be defended. Christians are a people who are called to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Nevertheless, when we find election in the Bible it is often  a source of praise (Ephesians 1:4–6), a motivation for missions (John 10:16, 26; Acts 18:9–10), and a reason for comfort and assurance (Romans 8:29–39). Rarely, if ever, is election up for debate in the Scripture.

For this reason, discussions about “the TULIP,” which only swim in the pond of argument and persuasion, miss the genre and the goal of biblical election. While I cannot speak for all Calvinists, I can say the ones I know are far more interested in worship and winning the lost than winning the debate about “Calvinism.” For those who hold to the doctrines of grace, the doctrines of grace increase our affections for God and his mission to reach the world for Christ.

For Calvinists, unconditional election is a source of sheer amazement that God would set his love on such a worm as me. Limited atonement becomes a risk-empowering confidence that the cross will accomplish the salvation of all God’s sheep. And irresistible grace is the power God employs to free sinners, so that they can freely follow him.

To be sure, each of these points need sub-points, but the doctrines of grace—to those who delight in them—are not mere theological shibboleths; they are invitations to worship the omni-benevolent and all-powerful God. With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that the Baptist Hymnal (the old one) is filled with songs that not only touch on the TULIP, but praise God for the very doctrines espoused in that acronym.

Now, maybe you’ve never noticed just how many (not all) hymns are written by Calvinists. Once you begin to learn the backdrop to the Baptist Hymnal, however, it is hard to miss the rich hymnody produced by the likes of Isaac Watts, John Newton, William Cowper, and others who affirmed the TULIP. It is my hope that by drawing attention to the following songs, you might see the doctrines of grace in their native habitat—the praise and worship of the church. My prayer is that God may open your eyes to behold the beauty of his multi-faceted grace, what sometimes goes under the acronym TULIP. Continue reading

Encouraged by the Convention’s Consensus: Highlights from the SBC

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

For Your Edification (6.7.2012): The Southern Baptist Convention Edition

This edition of FYE is dedicated to the upcoming Southern Baptist Convention.

Getting Ready for New Orleans. A few weeks ago, Eric Hankins and about 350 other distinguished signatories released the ““A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”  In ten points, it articulates affirmations and denials about a number of important topics concerning the doctrine of salvation.  This statement is important on a number of fronts.

For Southern Baptists, it is important because of what it means for our convention; for non-Southern Baptists, it is important because it tells the watching world what the largest Protestant denomination America is contending with at this moment in time–and the issue is the differing views of salvation as defended by Calvinist and Non-Calvinist alike.

Because this topic is so important, this week’s FYE is devoted to rounding up some of the most helpful statements around the web.  But first, let me state my discouragement and my optimism that comes from these recent discussions.

As to discouragement, it is sad that the unifying work of the Great Commission Resurgence has met the resistance of this document.  As Albert Mohler has rightly and most helpfully pointed out, these men have every right to express their beliefs, to make them public, and to engage in dialogue about doctrine.  Praise God, the discussion is about the nature of salvation, and not the inspiration of the Bible or the permission for clergy to marry homosexuals.  Nevertheless, the statement does belie a party spirit that goes against the good work that has been going on in the SBC since the infamous dialogue on election in 2006.

Now more hopefully.  I am optimistic that this document with clear points of affirmation and denial will bring light.  I pray it will bring to light what Scripture teaches on the subject of salvation and that both sides might see where they are weak.  But even if such light is not shed on the Scripture–which I am praying will take place–light will be shed on the true condition of our convention, and hopefully this itself will cause us to seek the face of God more earnestly, more jointly, and more continually.

Discouraged and yet not despairing.  That is the Christian way, right?  Paul thought so.  His words are appropriate in these days.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12)

May that be our prayer: As jars of clay, may we not follow others clay pots; may we instead rest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is worth being crushed for his sake, so that other future generations might know him.

Surely, in New Orleans, there will be much heat, but may we pray for light.  While it would be relaxing to enjoy a placid convention in the ‘Big Easy’; may God be pleased to give us grace to do the hard work or self-sacrificing cross-bearing, attentive listening, and golden-ruled cooperation.  Doctrines that tell of God’s glorious gospel are worth suffering to understand, to articulate, and to proclaim.  They are worthy of serious reflection, but even as we labor to nail down the doctrinal positions we affirm, may we not forget the cooperative unity that is already stated in the Baptist Faith & Message and more importantly, may we not forget the Son of God who was nailed down for us.  May we follow in his lead, boldly speaking truth but always in a manner that is pleasing to the Father.

In preparation, here are a few things to read to be prepared for the Southern Baptist Convention.

The current document that governs all SBC entities and which unites the Southern Baptist Convention: The Baptist Faith and Message 2000

The document released at SBC Today on May 30, 2012: A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

Here is an explanatory piece with lots of sound bytes from Baptist Press: “Statement on Calvinism draws approval, criticism

Joe Carter, at The Gospel Coalition, highlights a number of other articles and reasons why this discussion is so important for the larger evangelical community: “FAQ’s : Southern Baptists, Calvinism, and God’s Plan of Salvation

Baylor History Professor, Thomas Kidd gives a concise history of Baptists and the divergent traditions that have always marked our conventions: “Traditional” Baptists and Calvinism

Pastor Jonathan Akin’s response: A Response to “Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation

President Albert Mohler’s response: “Southern Baptists and Salvation: It’s Time to Talk

Former Pastor and SBC President, Jerry Vines, responds to Dr. Mohler: “It’s Time to Discuss the Elephant in the Room

LifeWay’s Trevin Wax reminds us the difference fifty years makes: “Southern Baptists, We’re Not in Zion Anymore

Professor Malcolm Yarnell’s call for prayer: “The grace of unity: a prayer for the Southern Baptist Convention

My response to Malcolm Yarnell: “Unity in the SBC

Pastor Tom Ascol is in the middle of a series of responses to the Traditionalist statement.  In his replies, he gives biblical reasons for concern with the statement.  However, he also points out that W. A. Criswell, a Southern Baptist statesman admired by Traditionalists and Calvinists, would not have been able to sign the document because of his doctrinal affirmation of Calvinism: Could W.A. Criswell have signed this statement?

All told, there is much to discuss.  The elephant in the room has the spot light shining on it, and Southern Baptists of all persuasions need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  We do need to pray together and to return to Scirpture to understand one another and to work together for the preaching of Christ and him crucified to peoples who have yet to even hear the name of Christ.

Going to New Orleans in just a few days, that is my hope and prayer, that God will be glorified by Southern Baptists working towards reaching a consensus accord such that Traditional and Calvinistic Baptists might be able to move forward together proclaiming Christ to our neighbors and the nations.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Scripture is Our Guardian and Guide to True Worship (Sermon Notes)

True Worship is Revealed By God

Yesterday’s post considered the way Exodus 32 warns us of false worship.  It confronts the many ways we (unintentionally) bring ‘golden calves’ into our worship services, and it makes us ask whether or not the elements in our worship are biblically-grounded or not.  Today, we aim to make a positive argument for true worship based on the ‘Regulative Principle.’

Moving from Old Covenant to New Covenant, we should notice that God is just as interested in true worship in the church-age.  The difference is the location of that worship–in the Spirit-filled temple of the gathered church, not Solomon’s temple made of stones.  On this John 4 is helpful.

In John 4, Jesus pursues a conversation with a sexually-dysfunctional Samaritan woman. This is a great passage on the subject of missions, evangelism, and salvation unto all peoples.  But it also speaks volumes about worship.  Tucked in this context, we see that God is still seeking worshipers who will worship Him in Spirit and Truth (v. 24).

To which we may ask: How do we worship in truth?  Exodus 32 has shown us what false worship looks like, but where do we find true worship.  Put simply, I would say that the whole counsel of Scripture is required to worship aright.

Now, this question has been debated much in church history.  There are some who will say, that the church is permitted to do most anything in God’s name, so long as it does not violate the teaching of Scripture.  This has been called the “Normative Principle.”

Conversely, others have argued for the “Regulative Principle,” which asserts that the church should do no more than what is commanded and/or explicitly modeled in Scripture.  This second approach has, in some cases, been taken to the extreme.  Some have argued that instruments, for instance, find no place in the New Testament and thus should be removed from worship.  Others, more moderately, have made adjustments such as allowing for amplification and powerpoint in their services, even though Scripture says nothing of these things (although a raised platform and assistance in understanding the text in Nehemiah 8 may give support for amplification and powerpoint–just saying).

The perpetual challenges of contextualization make this debate very challenging.  Nevertheless, based on the seriousness which God takes worship (cf Exod 32), it is a conversation worth having.  My point, from the text in Exodus 32, is simply that we ought to have a principle of regulation, that arises from the text in all that we do.  Creative freedom in worship seems to be what Exodus 32 is against, and it actually proves that such “freedom” results in the ultimate slavery (death). By contrast, when churches submit themselves to Scripture, they experience the freedom of the Lord, who descends upon the gathered church, and as 2 Corinthians says, where the Lord is there is a Spirit of freedom.

A Baptist Argument for the Regulative Principle

On the subject of the Regulative Principle, I have not found much that is immediately helpful–if you know of something, please let me know–but in a Baptist Press article from 2003, Donald Whitney, now professor at Southern Seminary (Louisville, KY), and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Lifegives a number of helpful points.  Let me quote a portion of his article, Worship Should Be God-Centered and Biblical

The regulative principle of worship in essence says that God knows how He wants to be worshiped better than we do, . . .
”He has not left us in the dark about that and has revealed in Scripture [alone] how he wants us to worship Him, what the elements of worship are to be. If He has done so, then those are the things we must do and we should not bring any of our own ideas in addition to that.” 



 Biblical elements of corporate worship include preaching and teaching the Word of God, prayer, the public reading of Scripture, the singing of Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and celebrating the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

The regulative principle rules out extra-biblical elements such as drama, clowns and the like.

Whitney pointed out that many Baptists today practice what is known as the “normative principle” of worship. The normative principle says that corporate worship must include all biblical elements, but believers also are free to include things not forbidden by Scripture. 

This approach is dangerous because God’s will is known only through His special revelation, . . .

We don’t know what honors God except that which He has revealed, . . .  In areas like worship where He has revealed His truth, we may not go beyond the bounds of that. 

[Significantly, Whitney ends his article by pointing us to the Scriptures, quoting from even from Exodus 25-30, which serves as the true pattern that was broken in Exodus 32].

In the end, Scripture must be our guardian and our guide!  God has not left himself silent on matters of worship.  He does not want creative expressions borrowed from the world.  He wants his creation to worship him according to his Word.  He is not looking for new ways to know him, explain him, promote him, or seek him.  He has given us his word and his Spirit.  This is sufficient.

To those who interpret the world through lens acquired from the world, this seems foolish and weak. But indeed, it is the wisdom of God.  May we again press into know the Lord, and trust that we will not be dissatisfied.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss