August 4, 1999

Baptist Calvinists draw record
crowd to Birmingham meeting

___BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) --Organizers of the 17th annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference said they were "shocked" by the record registration of nearly 600 people for their July 20-23 meetings at Samford University.
___The Founders Conference is a national meeting of Southern Baptists who embrace the doctrinal heritage historically known as "Calvinism" or "the doctrines of grace."
___Calvinist doctrine is often explained around a five-point acronym on the word "tulip." The theological system advocates the total depravity of humankind, unmerited grace of God, a limited atonement by Christ, an irresistible grace offered by God and the perseverance of all true saints.
___Some prominent founders of the Southern Baptist Convention were theological Calvinists, although others were not. In the 20th century, Southern Baptists largely moved away from the system's two most controversial doctrines, limited atonement and irresistible grace. Taken together, these doctrines assert that God determined before creation who would be saved and who would be damned, meaning that Christ's atoning work on the cross was limited in effectiveness to those whom God had predestined to be saved and that this grace act of God is so powerful that all who are supposed to be saved will be drawn irresistibly to God before their death.
___Within the last six years, Calvinism has enjoyed a resurgence within the SBC, gaining on the heels of the 20-year movement of the denomination in a more theologically and politically conservative direction. Two presidents of the SBC's six seminaries now are ardent Calvinists, Mark Coppenger at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Al Mohler at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
___Speakers at this year's Founders Conference included representatives of the SBC's International Mission Board and North American Mission Board.
___In a meeting laced with an emphasis on the imperative for missions, participants also heard a discussion on a theological issue that is rocking the Baptist General Conference, a national Baptist body based in Illinois. One of the conference speakers, John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, has played a major role in the denomination's conflict over the foreknowledge of God.
___The controversy stems from the writings of Gregory Boyd, a professor at the BGC's Bethel College and pastor of the 3,000-member Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn. Boyd, author of "God at War" and the forthcoming "Satan and the Problem of Evil," contends that God cannot know the future decisions of his creatures. This view also has been advanced recently by theologians such as Clark Pinnock and John Sanders.
___Piper has led the charge against this notion by proposing an amendment to the denomination's confession of faith to state that God "foreknows infallibly all that shall come to pass."
___Piper said he believes the doctrine of God's omniscience is more important than many other issues over which the denomination is willing to divide. How, he queried, can his denomination refuse membership to those who reject immersion as the mode of baptism while accepting those who deny the foreknowledge of God?
___Piper warned the BGC's lack of action to expel from membership those who advance this belief hangs ominously over the rest of evangelicalism.
___"We said that you can be an evangelical and a part of a very conservative Baptist denomination and believe that God does not know what you're going to do tomorrow afternoon," Piper said. "The wider evangelical community better wake up."
___Southern Baptists made a statement on this issue during this summer's SBC annual meeting in Atlanta. Messengers adopted a resolution "On the Power, Knowledge and Changelessness of God," crafted by Mohler.
___In a separate sermon on missions, Piper described himself as being on "a recruitment mission for martyrs" in light of the teaching in Revelation 6:9 that the triumphant Christ will return only after the full number of martyrs for the faith have been killed for his name.
___A passion for missions is inherently a part of Reformed self-identity, Piper contended, because Calvinists believe God's glory as displayed in his sovereign mercy is the chief value in the universe. Piper promised unspeakable persecution for those whose passion for the supremacy of God's name propels them to lands where Christ is not named.
___"In my call to missions and to completing the Great Commission, I have no rosy picture whatsoever to paint," Piper said. "Not because the devil is on a rampage, but because God designs that we deliver the sufferings of Jesus in and through our own sufferings."
___Other speakers included Timothy George, dean of Samford's Beeson Divinity School; Tom Ascol, executive director of Founders Ministries and pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Cape Coral, Fla.; Bill Ascol, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church of Shreveport, La.; and Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

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