Last night I attended the John 3:16 conference at Macedonia Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. The subtitle for the conference was “It is Still, Whosoever Will.” A description of the conference said, “This is a night of encouragement and worship celebrating our traditional belief concerning salvation.” The speakers were Dr. David Allen and Dr. Paige Patterson, both of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
I was interested in the conference for two main reasons. First, there has been anti-Calvinistic rhetoric and efforts spreading in our area of Kentucky. I wanted to see how far this conference would go with that. Additionally, I legitimately wanted to hear what Dr. Allen and Dr. Patterson had to say. There are some aspects of Reformed theology that I think are absolutely irrefutable if you are a serious student of the Bible. I wanted to see how Dr. Allen and Dr. Patterson would respond to these truths.
Dr. Allen focused primarily on the most debated aspect of Calvinism, which is Limited Atonement. He distinguished between the intent of the atonement, the extent of the atonement, and the application of the atonement. He said the biblical view of the atonement is “Universal Atonement” rather than Limited Atonement. He used several passages (Acts 3:17-26; Luke 22:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:1-3; Isaiah 53:6) to prove that when the gospel is shared it is shared to large groups of people, some of whom may not be the elect. He then stated briefly (without any logical explanation) that Universal Atonement and Universalism are not the same thing. Finally, he stated negative implications of Limited Atonement, such as the inability to give the genuine offer of the gospel to everyone.
Let me start by saying that I appreciate Dr. Allen’s passion and attempt to proclaim the full counsel of God. With that said, I was thoroughly disappointed in his presentation (although he did receive a chorus of amens during his time at the pulpit). First of all, he strongly misrepresented Reformed Baptists. I do not know any who hold to the doctrines of grace that are unable to tell anyone that God offers them salvation in Jesus Christ, through repentance of sins. This is simply false. Additionally, his logical conclusions regarding Limited Atonement are flawed. To say that we cannot preach the gospel to anyone because they might not be the elect is not only inconsistent with Reformed theology, it is unbiblical.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of Dr. Allen’s lesson was his inability to distinguish between Universal Atonement and Universalism. Scripture consistently speaks of atonement as payment for sins. No one disputes that. If everyone’s sins in the whole world are paid for by the powerful blood of Jesus, then everyone must be saved. I don’t see another option, unless something other than the blood of Jesus pays for our sins. Dr. Allen did say that the atonement is not applied until someone repents, but he presented no logical explanation for how this all works out. Universalism states that in the end, everyone will be saved. Universal Atonement says that Jesus’ blood paid for everyone’s sin. What is the difference?
There are MANY other issues with what Dr. Allen said, but it would take much more than a blog post to cover it all.
Dr. Patterson’s time was spent primarily on election. He began by stating that man was free to reject God or receive salvation. He said man is responsible and God is sovereign. He went on to speak briefly about foreknowledge (I never understood what he was trying to say on that subject). He then provided a short explanation of Romans 8:28-30, followed with a defense of the biblical view of election. Finally, he concluded with reasons why election is in the Bible.
I agreed so much with Dr. Patterson that I whispered to my neighbor that it sounded like he was defending the Reformed position. Dr. Patterson showed without a doubt that there is much that Calvinists and non-Calvinists can agree upon. His message reminded me why I admire his stance on biblical truth.
Unfortunately, my joy in Dr. Patterson’s words was wiped away quickly in his final two minutes. For some unknown reason, he finished with several arrows thrown at Reformed Baptists. Below are some of his quotes:
“The kind of job we (non-Calvinists) are doing witnessing, we might as well be Calvinists.”
“It’s easier to be a Calvinist (because you don’t have to witness).”
“If I were a Calvinist, I would not witness.”
“I’m not saying they don’t witness, but I’ve got a suspicion.”
These statements (or implications) are not only untrue, they are unkind and unnecessary.
He also said that Calvin was not missional, and you would search in vain to find any evidence that he was. However, a simple ten second Google search proved that wrong. See links below:
All in all, I am glad I went. I do wish that the conference organizers (who were the DOMs from the Western Kentucky area) would have allowed someone from the Reformed side to represent the opposing view. At the minimum, someone could have corrected the misrepresentations and false information provided by Dr. Allen and Dr. Patterson. However, with that said, I realize the point was not to allow an open discussion, but to encourage those who are already anti-Calvinists. I hope one day, we can sit together and celebrate what we have in common and openly discuss what we disagree upon without throwing darts at each other. This has already taken place on the national level and on many state levels. I pray that God will allow the churches in our area to follow the lead set by our national leaders. Let us all seek to be faithful students of the word and faithful missionaries in our communities and all around the world. Soli Deo Gloria.