This afternoon, there is a panel discussion which is comprised of Dr. David Wells, Tom Ascol, Roy Hargrave, Bill Ascol, and Raymond Perron. The discussion is being moderated by Phil Newton.
>> Question for Wells about relevance, arrogance, and humble orthodoxy:
Wells: Relevance has become an idol to many people because what they understand by that, you must become a marketer. You must understand your customers and adapt to them. This is death to biblical preaching. Second, if you try to preach biblically today, people will look to you as if you are arrogant. The younger generation do not want to be preached at or to. Well, we have to preach; we are called to preach. There is no other way in the church that people are going to be instructed. However, it might be good, and I am giving my advice to myself first and foremost, to remember that it is a matter of style. I get leery about people who are too polished or who speak too authoritatively. A little self-deprecating humor goes a long way to putting your congregation at ease. Someone who is really good at this is Tim Keller. Although he prepares very carefully, he does not come across as polished or giving a perfect address. The point of relevance is that we be relevant to God. And if we are not, delivering something else than the Word of God, then we are giving God’s people something God does not want them to have. We need to work harder of finding those points of connection between the truth and where people are living (application). This is where many of us are weak. Application is very difficult to do well. You can get help in commentaries on a text, but you don’t get help in application
>> Question for Tom Ascol/Hargrave about confessions:
T. Ascol: We use the 1689 and New Hampshire as confessions. For leadership, we have higher expectations (1689), but for the congregation we simply use the New Hampshire. Some disagree with this, arguing that this produces a sort of elitism, but we have benefited from this and found it biblical and useful for our approach.
Hargrave: Our covenant has an abbreviated form of the confession. For leadership, we have a modified version of the 1689. All of our leaders sign it every year with their families.
>> Question for Bill Ascol about church reformation when not in leadership of a church, and the leadership is not Reformed:
B. Ascol: Unless you have the pulpit, you are not going to see a reformation in the local church. It is only a part, but it is essential. Pray for your pastor. Support him, and share your heart with him.
T. Ascol: I would look for what the church’s confession and covenant says. I would seek to understand where church doctrinally stands. I would consider the healthiness of the church. And I would show the pastor that you are committed to the church, to the health and growth of the church, and to the leadership. Love your pastor. Use resources that are available, and see how God can use you to be solutions to the problems.
Hargrave: The greatest thing the layperson has is the power of prayer. If we believe in the sovereignty of God and that he uses means, then we should use the power of prayer that God would work in the church. If you truly love your pastor, establish a relationship with him. If you don’t love him, get out.
T. Ascol: The Amazing Grace DVD. Tom Nettles’ books, especially By His Grace and for His Glory. Timothy George’s Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative and Man’s Response. The audio from the Mohler/Patterson discussion. IX Marks Ministries and their stuff online.
>> Question on Stott’s Annihilationalism and the Repercussions of His Stance on Hell:
Wells: First, Stott was converted by a name known as “Nash.” A number of Anglican leaders came to faith through this man. “Nash” taught them the doctrine of annihilationalism. He has held this view for over 70 years. Stott genuinely believed this was a biblical view, and that he got it from the Bible. He kept this view entirely private until when the circumstances got him outed in his dialogue with David Edwards (Evangelical Essentials). It caused no difficulty in England at all. In the United States, it caused pandemonium. People couldn’t believe that someone as self-consciously biblical could hold this view. I don’t think it has had any effect on his gospel preaching at all. I myself came to faith in Christ through his preaching of the gospel, and it was through a message he preached on judgment. He has subsequently modified his view a little bit, saying that he is agnostic on this point (the point being the destiny of the unevangelized). I myself think this was a serious mistake he has made, and it is perhaps a reminder that when we are doing our best to be biblical, we need to be aware that our minds and our souls can play tricks on us, even down to the last breath that we draw. He who think he stands beware lest he falls. This was a stumble on John’s part. With respect to what he has written, I do not think anyone should hold this against him. Anyone’s writings should be judged; this is partly of our priestly function.
>> Question for T. Ascol on “unity in diversity” and a potential split in the SBC over Calvinism:
T. Ascol: I don’t think there will be a split over Calvinism. I think the SBC is fairly balkanized with various special interest groups. It is interesting to see the relationships forged by these special interest groups. Take for instance the private prayer language. The conference this November could be a harbinger of things to come. We must be able to talk about theology without killing each other. The SBC is incredibly diverse; some think too diverse. Yet we have a confession of faith. It is not very substantive compared to other Baptist historical confessions, yet it teaches us things we must know and believe as Baptists. Yet within the Baptist Faith and Message, there must be real theological debate and conversation. I have no doubt if that happens, God’s truth will be vindicated by God’s Spirit. I think we can work together with those who are not as Reformed as we are. I do it, and with joy. Others help me see things I do not see and expose my blind spots. As long as in a brotherly way we can help each other pursue truth, there is much to look forward to. I am very encouraged about the future.
>> About the Ridgecrest Conference:
T. Ascol: It is November 26-28, 2007 at Ridgecrest Conference Center. LifeWay is holding the conference, and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries are co-sponsoring. This is truly a team effort in the SBC. It is called “Building Bridges: Southern Baptists and Calvinism.” It will be comprised of robust theological debate with a point/counter-point method. There will be ten Calvinists debating ten non-Calvinists. The conference will be an opportunity to have healthy, lengthly, and substantive discussion.
>> Question about integrity in church membership and shallow evangelistic practices:
Hargrave: Integrity in church membership involves discipline. People need to be purged off the rolls. The FBI can’t find most Southern Baptists. When I came to Riverbend, we had 3500 members and 300 who weekly came. Now we have 1500 members with 1500 weekly attending. We have reduced the gospel, minimized it, and taken the difficult truths away, and produced false converts. We need to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word which includes preaching both law and gospel. Lastly, pride in the pulpit and in the denomination.
B. Ascol: We have lost in our churches what it means to be Baptist. Our churches are supposed to be made up only of people who have had a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We have to recover the doctrine of regenerate church membership–at the front door in how we receive members, and at the back door with church discipline. I heard an SBC meeting where a speaker said that the only age group where the baptisms are up is among the 1-5 year olds. We need to apologize to our Presbyterian friends. I would encourage you to take practical steps, beginning with the outer circle of non-resident members who the church does not know. Then contact the non-resident members you do know, and tenderly deal with them. Finally, deal with the non-active resident members. This is difficult work, but it must be done. You have to move carefully, but you as a pastor must lead the way.
>> Question regarding becoming evangelistically oriented and active:
Wells: I don’t have a lot of wisdom on this. The only thing I would say that the pastor is modeling even when they are not aware they are doing it. For example, there are a lot of ministers who believe in biblical inerrancy but go up to preach and will only take a glance at the text. If the pastor is not taking the Bible seriously, then why should the rest of the congregation? It is helpful for a congregation to see their pastor doing something along these lines. I became a pastor of a very liberal church under very bizarre circumstances. I did not know more than two or three who were converted. One thing we did is have what we call “talk back.” That captured the sense of talking back to the pastor. This became an evangelistic occasion. People had many questions, and it became an opportunity to help them understand the gospel. It modeled for them a way of reaching out to the kinds of questions they were having in their minds. A very small group then started a Bible study which continued even eight years later. It was an encouragement to them because they felt very alone and beleaguered. Seeing me up there answering these questions inspired them a little bit.
>> Question on a thumbnail sketch on imputation:
Wells: See if this makes sense to you. There is a difference between sinlessness and perfection. Adam was born sinless. It was God’s intention that that sinlessness reach its goal (perfection). That never happened because of his temptation and fall. Therefore, that thread of development snapped. In the life of Christ, that thread of development was taken up. Christ was born sinless, but despite this, he needed to learn obedience. This is a remarkable statement when you think about it. Everything that Adam was supposed to have been, Christ became, so we see in Christ the model of what human life should be. What happens in sanctification is that the Holy Spirit first separates us out, then he begins to restore this marred image of God in us. In that process of restoration, he moves us closer and closer to what we see in Christ. However, short of death we never get there. We are justified, yet we remain sinners.
>> Question on naming a book that you think worth passing along to others:
Hargrave: Knowing the Heart by Jonathan Edwards (previously unpublished sermons)
Wells: It all depends upon your time in life. Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards and B.B. Warfield on Authority and Inspiration of Scripture. Books that require effort are ones that you need to read. Books that require little effort leave nothing behind.