My Response to the John 3:16 Conference Held in Owensboro.

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:

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/11/27/john-calvin-missionary-and-church-planter/

http://www.founders.org/journal/fj33/article2.html

http://www.andrewfullercenter.org/files/john-calvin-on-missions-article.pdf

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.

12 thoughts on “My Response to the John 3:16 Conference Held in Owensboro.

  1. Fantastic thoughts bro. Appreciate you talking about this, especially when KY is a hotbed for foolish debate/proof-texting/ad-hominems. You were faithful to the reformed position and gracious to the presenters.

  2. Thanks for sharing bro,
    I really don’t know why these guys felt it necessary to cast so many darts at their fellow baptists. I mourn the posture and attitudes of the “Traditional Baptist” camp toward their calvinistic brothers.

    I’m totally down to talk through our differences openly, but I really can’t see one good reason why Dr. Patterson gave those final remarks last night.

  3. Great response! I was in attendance and agree with your assessment. I would only add that I really struggled with Allen’s arguments regarding all sermons in the New Testament espousing “universal atonement.” The text he used to attempt to prove this was 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (He also briefly used the sermon in Acts 16). He based his argument ultimately on Paul’s “supposed” unlimited view of the atonement being rooted in Isaiah 53:6. Then, he said that Isaiah 53:6 was based on the day of atonement in Leviticus. Now here is my point: Was the atonement offered on the Day of Atonement universal? No. It was limited to the chosen nation of Israel, the covenant people of God. Did the other nations benefit in terms of forgiveness from the Day of Atonement? No. In the New Testament, we know that the reach of the atonement crosses all continents and ethnicities, but Paul does not preach an unlimited atonement based in Isaiah and Leviticus. He preaches an atonement for the elect based on the entire Old Testament revelation of an electing God and he preaches to all indiscriminately because he cannot identify the elect other than through their conversion and Christian life. I really don’t think David Allen proved the point of argument he addressed. His key argument was that all the sermons in the New Testament preached an unlimited atonement. Of course, he noted that it always had to be implied since they never said Jesus died for all without exception. Again, he did not prove this point.
    Anyway, I enjoyed their points of view and I certainly can handle a few theological jabs. I too, long for real discourse between both sides of the debate for the purpose knowing our differences and choosing to work together for the gospel in spite of those differences, especially on the local and state level. SDG

    1. I agree with everything you said brother. As I said in my post, a blog does not provide sufficient room to answer all of the problems with what Dr. Allen said. You brought up great points. Thanks.

  4. Thank you for attending and keeping us informed. While Dr. P meets the cultural definition of a theologian he fails at the historical and biblical definition: one who is filled with humility, focuses on clarity and avoids the “straw man”.

  5. Matthew,

    I read with interest your blog post above. Thank you for coming to the conference. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet you on Monday night. Though I’m not scheduled to be in Kentucky for another year, maybe we can meet and visit when I’m there for the State Convention Pastor’s Conference in 2014.

    I wanted to respond to some of your comments below in the spirit of further dialogue. Please accept my apology for the length of this comment.

    First, you speak of aspects of Reformed theology which you think are “absolutely irrefutable if you are a serious student of the Bible.” I would assume we are all serious students of the Bible. The issue is not what Scripture says but is our interpretation of Scripture. Scripture is inerrant; our interpretations are not. The fact is, we could both be wrong! When you speak of wanting to see how I would “respond to these truths” which you feel are self-evident, immediately you put me in a no-win situation. I must either conform to your interpretation of Scripture or be against “these truths.” I think that tends to cut off dialogue from the start.

    Second, you stated that I offered no logical explanation that Universal Atonement (UA) and Universalism are not the same thing. This is especially troubling since even Reformed theology distinguishes between the two. However, I suspect that what you are getting at is the argument made by some within Reformed theology that a UA entails universalism. That is an entirely different issue. I’m sure you are aware that many Reformed theologians do not make that claim, including many who do believe in limited atonement (LA). The notion that UA entails universalism harks back to John Owen’s argument for LA. He assumes that the atonement itself secures its own application. That is a mistake. As I said at the conference, no one is saved until the Holy Spirit applies the atonement upon repentance and faith. Owen is basing his supposition on a commercialistic understanding of the atonement, which has been highly criticized by leading Calvinists such as Charles Hodge, Robert Dabney, and W. G. T. Shedd, and more recently by people like Dr. Bruce Ware, to name a few. No one doubts that Jesus paid for sins on the cross. That is biblical. But a commercialistic understanding of the atonement is not.

    Third, you state that I “misrepresented Reformed Baptists” in saying that “they are unable to tell anyone that God offers them salvation….” I think you misunderstood what I said. Of course Calvinists offer salvation to all, and tell their audience that God is offering salvation. My point was that such cannot be done consistently from the platform of LA. Also, I never said one cannot preach the gospel to anyone who might not be elect. I said that one cannot do so consistently from the platform of LA with respect to the well-meant gospel offer, the sufficiency of the atonement, and the bold proclamation.

    Fourth, I am not anti-Calvinist. I serve with Calvinists at SWBTS, have recommended many to positions in our institution and others, hired them on my church staff when I was a pastor, etc. To disagree with aspects of Calvinism is not to be anti-Calvinist. I threw no darts at anyone.
    I do hope we can talk about these issues further by phone or email. My email address is dallen@swbts.edu. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at any time. I pray God’s blessings on your work at the church and for the Kingdom. Soli Deo Gloria!

    1. Dr. Allen,

      I am humbled and grateful that you read my post and responded. I will contact you via email to ask clarifying questions and clarify my post. Blessings.

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