September 1, 2017
Christ referred to us as his body. The
members of our physical body have a special kind of union with one another. They have a connection that goes beyond unity. When I think of unity, I think of a collection of different parts that are organized and work together to accomplish a task. A mechanical watch, for example, is a collection of separate parts that are organized to keep time. If one were to disassemble the watch, each part could exist independently from the others.
The church, however, is not merely assembled parts, placed together to accomplish a task. The church is a body, and the members of a body are living, and they impart life to one another. Separated, the members of a body will die. My fingers, toes, heart and lungs, with their special functions and abilities, are designed to be life giving. As each member of the body of Christ walks in the Spirit, we contribute something life giving to the other members of the body.
I’m encouraged by the life giving relationships that we have within our Association. Over the past 7 months, many of you have breathed spiritual life into me through our discussions, prayer and serving together. Our Association has the potential for more and deeper connections, and that is a very exciting and energizing prospect. My hope and prayer and work is increased fellowship among the saints, so that we might impart spiritual life and vitality to one another.
July 17, 2016
The SBC and the Atonement
At the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention our denomination affirmed a resolution regarding Penal Substitutionary Atonement. A compact version of the resolution might read like this:
“Whereas in recent days numerous voices have attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement; and have publicly labeled penal substitution ‘evil,’ and indicative of ‘the Father murdering a son’; and Whereas God is perfect in His justice and love; and the denial of penal substitutionary atonement in effect denies the holy and loving God the exercise of His justice, the overflow of which in a sinful world is the outpouring of His just retributive wrath; and Whereas the denial of penal substitutionary atonement constitutes false teaching that leads the flock astray; and the Bible teaches that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sin; now, therefore, be it resolved, that the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirm the truthfulness, efficacy, and beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.”
Penal Substitutionary Atonement has several facets. Each person is guilty of transgressing a law or commandment of God. In order to be just, God, the cosmic judge, must punish the guilty law breaker. God’s holiness demands that he respond appropriately to the law breaker. The appropriate punishment for a finite being who has desecrated something of infinite worth is the death penalty and eternal imprisonment.
In the Old Testament, the idea of transferring guilt and punishment from one party to another is established in the sacrificial system. The punishment merited by the guilty party is transferred to the animal, which would then be slain. The sacrifice is a substitute, receiving the punishment due the guilty party and dying on behalf of the transgressor. The sacrifice atones for the crimes of the guilty party and satisfies the wrath of the judge.
The disposition of God towards unbelievers is one of the primary points on which the discussion centers. The scripture teaches that while we were yet sinners God loved us and died for us. Part of the standard pitch in southern baptist evangelism is, “God loves you,” and “God wants to save you.” The question is, what does God want to save you from? Death and hell, the consequences of your sin? His wrath and anger? Is God angry at humankind and ready to pour out his wrath, or is he loving, longing for a relationship? You can see the potential for confusion.
I’m confident that those who stand against penal substitutionary atonement disdain the depiction of God as a cosmic deity that is angry at us and will pour out his wrath on us unless his justice and wrath is appeased by a legal transaction, a blood sacrifice, and from his own child no less. The God of PSA is not commensurate with their idea of a loving heavenly Father.
Alternative understandings of the atonement are akin to the Christus Victor model or the Governmental Theory. Through his life, death, burial and resurrection, Christ overcomes the power of sin, overthrows Satan, breaks the chains of death and makes a path for humankind to reconnect with God by breaking through all of the obstacles that hinder a right relationship. Christ’s perfect blood washes away our sin. The life, death and resurrection of Christ is restorative, not punitive and retributive. Christ did not become our sin and then God crush him so he doesn’t have crush us. Christ’s perfect obedience breaks through the obstacles that stand in the way of each of us having a right relationship with God. We only need to place our faith in Christ to begin the restoration process which will culminate fully in the heaven.
I certainly agree that Christ disarmed Satan and defanged death. The blood of Christ washes away my sin and send it to the bottom of the ocean, never to be remembered again. I also think we find PAS in the teaching of the Scripture as well. Romans 3:21–26 appears to present a cosmic problem, God cannot declare sinners justified and remain just himself. God cannot pass over sins. The relational dynamic of the atonement presented in Romans 3 lends itself to a penal substitutionary model. Through the work of Christ, God remains just while declaring sinners righteous through faith. Isaiah 53:10–11 also appears to support the view of PSA, “…it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Regarding wrath, John 3:36 comments, “ Whoever believe in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him,” and Romans 5:9 says, “since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
Our understanding of the work of Christ will impact our preaching and evangelism. Consider the tracts we sometimes use in evangelism. When we get to the part in which we discuss humanity’s “problem,” the Eternal LIfe tract utilizes a drawing of a person being burned by fire. On the other hand, the 3 Circles Life Conversion Guide, which seems to have some popularity today, focuses on the idea of “brokenness” as the problem of the human condition. Because of the fallen condition of man, our relationship with God, others and the creation is broken. The work of Christ ultimately restores all relationships.
The gospel message can sound like a mixed message regarding the work of Christ in the atonement. The Christian worldview answers our big questions, “What am I? Why am I here? What is the problem? What is the solution?” The Church must do its best to communicate all the dimensions of the work of Christ, in the fullness of its vast and marvelous grandeur. May our Lord enable us, by the power of his Spirit, to effectively proclaim the fullness of the love of God in the work of Christ.
June 26, 2017
Southern Baptist Convention: Resolution #10
The Southern Baptist Convention is always a wonderful time of fellowship and encouragement. I attended this year’s convention in Phoenix, AZ. Our convention is basically a two day business meeting. The convention is a very public event that is covered by many news publications.
My committee chair and mentor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary was Dr. Jeff Riley, professor of theology and ethics. This year Jeff was on the convention’s Resolution Committee. Resolutions are submitted by pastors and leaders for adoption by our denomination. A Resolution is a statement adopted by the convention that publicly expresses our thoughts and general disposition regarding a matter of particular importance. The Resolution committee sifts the resolutions to identify those that are well written, represent the spirit of our denomination, are timely and deal with issues that have not been thoroughly covered in recently adopted resolutions. The Resolution committee received and considered 12+ resolutions this year. The Resolution Committee decides which resolutions to bring forth for the consideration and vote of the messengers in the general assembly.
This year proposed resolution #10 was submitted by Texas pastor Dwight McKissic. Resolution #10 denounced “white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil.” Sounds good. However, the Resolution committee chose not to bring the resolution to the general assembly for vote. Why? Could be because Southern Baptist are sympathetic to the white supremacist agenda. However, while we were having dinner together after the first day of the convention, my friend Jeff Riley told me that Resolution #10 was not brought to the general assembly because it was not well written, using inflammatory language and repudiating not only “white-nationalism,” but sentiments of nationalism and patriotism generally speaking. Jeff also noted that Southern Baptists have addressed the issues of racism through resolutions passed at our past three conventions. “In recent resolutions the Southern Baptist Convention called on ‘all Christian men and women to pray and labor for the day when our Lord will set all things right and racial prejudice and injustice will be no more’ (2014); expressed continued grief ‘over the presence of racism and the recent escalation of racial tension in our nation’ (2015); and urged fellow Christians to discontinue using the Confederate battle flag, acknowledging that it is a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and racism, offending millions of people’ (2016).”
Pastor McKissic, the author of Resolution #10 requested for the general assembly to vote on allowing his resolution to come to the general assembly. The assembly voted and denied the resolution the opportunity to come to the general assembly. Was this a vote in favor of the alt-right movement and white supremacy? No, not even a passive affirmation of racism. No southern baptist, at any point, argued in favor of the alt-right agenda. The assembly did not vote down a well written resolution that made a stand against discrimination, but instead simply voted not to bring to the floor a poorly written resolution covering the issue of racial discrimination, which we have addressed recently.
However, a media storm ensued, proclaiming that Southern Baptists are torn over racial discrimination and the alt-right movement. The Resolutions Committee was reconvened and the Resolution Committee wrote a resolution repudiating the alt-right and white supremacist ideology and requested a vote by the general assembly to allow this new resolution to be brought to the general assembly. The general assembly voted to allow the new resolution on the floor and the next day, the general assembly voted, almost unanimously, to adopt the resolution.
I’m not insinuating that Southern Baptists do not have racism and discrimination in our past, nor would I argue that we all have repented and turned away from racism and discrimination and these ugly, anti-gospel sentiments can no longer be found in our denomination. However, I am confident that, regarding resolution #10 at this year’s convention, we were not being sympathetic to the ideology of white supremacy.
So what do I take away from this event? One, a watching world is eager to place the label of racists on Southern Baptists. We can respond by saying “we don’t care what you think about us,” but that is not true and we should care because we are to live in such a way as to adorn the gospel and be ambassadors for Christ. Two, we certainly must be vigilant and intentional to guard our reputation. Because of our past, we need to be very clear and even very public on where we stand regarding the gospel and our love for all the ethnicities of this world. We certainly must be faithful to the truth of the gospel and vigilant and intentional about the work of the gospel. Your congregation will follow you in this matter. Teach them that the love of Christ breaks through all barriers.
Consider also this article in Christianity Today