WOODSTOCK, Ga. — About 1,000 attended a John 3:16 Conference Nov. 6-7 at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Ga., an event described as a biblical assessment of five-point Calvinism.
The conference, at the church of Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt, was sponsored by New Orleans, Southwestern and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminaries and Liberty and Luther Rice seminaries and by Jerry Vines Ministries.
TULIP is an acronym for the five points of Calvinism — Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. Speakers addressed each point.
Vines and other speakers emphasized that the event was intended to address theological issues and provide information rather than attack Calvinists. “I’ve never felt that disagreeing was attacking,” Vines said, adding that he has many friends with different views.
Vines spoke on John 3:16, a verse he described as the gospel in a nutshell. The verse indicates God’s love is global, sacrificial, personal and eternal, he said.
Paige Patterson, Southwestern Seminary president, addressed the issue of total depravity from Romans, saying that depravity means no one is right with God. Any good deed done is tainted with sinfulness, and there is no fear of God or ultimate peace in a person’s heart. All of mankind fell in Adam and are affected by his sin.
“Does that mean we are born guilty before God?” Patterson asked. “I do not think that can be demonstrated from scripture. We are born with a ‘sin sickness,’ a disease that makes it certain that we will sin and rebel against God.”
The Bible says people are condemned for their own sins, he said.
Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke about unconditional election. Land said election is consistent with the free agency of man; the question is how election is defined.
Commenting on 1Tim. 2:3-4, “… God our savior, who will have all men to be saved,” Land said the Greek word for “will” is an earnest desire.
Reacting to Reformed commentaries that say “all” can’t really mean “all men” because if God willed something it would have to happen, Land said, “I believe in a God who is so sovereign and so omniscient that He can break out of Calvin’s box … and He can choose to limit Himself and He can convict us and He can seek to bring us to conviction … but He will not force us.”
David Allen, dean of Southwestern Seminary’s School of Theology, challenged limited atonement quoting only Calvinist authors because “the best arguments against limited atonement come from Calvinist writers.”
Allen named a long list of Calvinists, including John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, who did not hold to limited atonement. Martin Luther and the early English reformers held to universal atonement, which means Christ bore the punishment due for the sins of all humanity.
In his concluding remarks, Allen expressed concern about the effect of five-point Calvinism on preaching and evangelism. “Anything that makes the preacher hesitant to make the bold proclamation (of the gospel) to all people is wrong,” he said.
“Calvinism is not the gospel,” he said. “Should the Southern Baptist Convention move toward five-point Calvinism, such a move would be away from, and not toward, the gospel.”
Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Seminary, spoke about irresistible grace.
“Salvation is tied in some measure to our response,” he said, citing several biblical examples of what he said were people resisting God. For example, in Acts 7:51 the Jewish men who stoned Stephen were said to be “always resisting the Holy Spirit.”
Lemke said that while Calvinists don’t deny people can resist the Holy Spirit in some situations, they believe the effectual call is irresistible.
Ken Keathley, dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Seminary, covered the fifth point, perseverance of the saints. Ironically, he said, many Arminians and Calvinists arrive at basically the same answer: Assurance is based on the evidence of sanctification in one’s life.
While the Reformers taught that assurance is the essence of faith, the doctrines of the hidden will of God, limited atonement and temporary faith undermine this assurance, he said. Some argue that final justification is obtained by perseverance.
“Doesn’t this come close to a works-based salvation?” he asked.
Keathley said the only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ, and that saving faith perseveres or remains until the day when it gives way to sight.
“Any model that begins with Christ but ends with man is doomed to failure,” he said.