At a time when Calvinism and the “sinner’s prayer” continue to stir debate among Southern Baptists, a crowd of more than 1,300 seminary students and ministry leaders – representing 20 states – gathered at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest to discuss conversion.
For the fourth year, the seminary hosted 9Marks at Southeastern Sept. 28-29. Daniel Akin, Southeastern’s president, said this year’s event – one he described as “a conference about the church, for the church” – drew the largest crowd since it first began.
9Marks, started by Mark Dever, is an organization that, according to its website, “exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches.” The ministry is based off of Dever’s book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.
At past 9Marks conferences topics included preaching, biblical theology and the gospel.
BR photo by Shawn Hendricks
Mark Dever, right, discusses salvation Sept. 29 during the two-day 9Marks conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dever was joined by Thabiti Anyabwile on one of the panels during the event.
Next year’s topic will be evangelism, with membership, discipline, discipleship and leadership scheduled for the following years.
This year speakers shared how society is often fascinated by the topic of what it truly looks like to be “born again” – a critical issue they contended Christians can’t afford to ignore or get wrong.
Too often Christians rush to judgment on who they think can and can’t be “converted,” said Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
“Conversion is not only for those we think [are] most likely to be converted,” he said. “How many people have you and I sinfully not witnessed to in the last month because we think that person wouldn’t really have any interest? … Thank God somebody witnessed to me.”
When a person truly understands “God’s grace in the gospel,” he added, that individual becomes more “fearless.”
David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., addressed what he called a growing “pandemic” in today’s churches among those who think they are “saved” but have not truly been converted.
“It is imperative that churches get conversion right in the church,” said Platt, who shared three different stories of people who had “prayed the prayer,” but later realized they had not truly repented and surrendered their lives to Jesus.
“I’m convinced [these stories] are dangerously common … multitudes of people who have made decisions, raised hands, prayed the prayer, signed the card, been baptized, sitting and even serving in churches, people who assumed they were Christians … who are seriously deceived.”
True conversion involves visible change, Platt said.
“As a result of conversion, we have radically new wants and entirely new wills,” Platt said. “Let’s be clear that profession of faith without transformation of life is not biblical conversion.”
Platt, who said he became a Christian at 8 years old, quickly added that conversion does not hinge on a “dramatic testimony.”
“My testimony [is] not ‘when I was 8 years old I was drinking every night and partying hard in the ways of this world and I stopped the next day and been sober ever since,’” he said.
“That’s not my story. But by the grace of God there’s a moment where He transformed my mind – my desires and my life and my will from the inside out.”
Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas, cautioned pastors to be careful when addressing conversion.
Chandler described himself as one who came to know Jesus “in a powerful way” at the age of 18, but he admitted that he still struggled with areas of sin for “a long time.”
As a new believer, discussions on what it truly meant to be converted often sent Chandler into a “tailspin,” he said.
There’s a difference between discussing genuine conviction and “mowing over genuine believers who might have areas that they are struggling,” Chandler said.
“Truth should be handled like a scalpel, never a club,” he said. “Salvation belongs to God, and it is possible for all, that we might just preach and proclaim and with great expectancy believe that He’ll save.”
Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, later added that there are two types of people who are “alienated from God … the rebellious and the religious.”
“Jesus said there are bad people, those who think they are good, and there are people who are alive,” said Merida, who shared the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15.
“By grace we can come home through repentance and be restored to Him,” he said.
“Christianity is not just a list of rules, when we’re calling people to faith. We’re not calling them to moralism. … It’s not a philosophy. It’s more like an explosion. It’s called the new birth.”
Ultimately conversion is a gift, said Akin, who shared a litany of about 50 verses from the New Testament to make the case for “total depravity” without God’s grace.
“The Bible could not be more clear, regardless of what spiritual theologians say,” he said. “We are not mostly dead. We are all dead. We have no hope. … Apart from Christ Jesus we are spiritually dead.”
And Christians must be willing to escape their fears and share Christ’s message of hope through not only their actions but also their words, said Anyabwile, pastor at First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman of the Cayman Islands.
“The question is, ‘Can we cram our conversation … full of this gospel message … the way a freshman over packs for his first year of school?”
“We are talking too much and saying too little … if the gospel is not stuck to our lips like Chapstick in winter.”