On March 21-22 the second John 3:16 Conference will be held. The purpose of this conference will be to inform local churches of the viewpoints of New Calvinism. It is to be part of the continued discussion on the Calvinist Resurgence within the SBC and broader evangelicalism. Those speaking will defend a non-Calvinistic (or a self-dubbed Tradiontalist viewpoint).
They will be discussing topics like limited atonement, inherited guilt, regeneration and faith, historical views of salvation, election, and the sinners prayer among other things. It looks like it could be an interesting conference. And I appreciate that Jerry Vines’ intention is that all the speakers be “irenic in tone, theologically well versed and evangelistic and missions minded.” Yet…
I have no desire to attend
And that has nothing to do with the fact that I am Calvinistic. I’m not up in arms that these men will be promoting a theology that is not my own. In fact if this were a conference led by Calvinists that had the same topics I would also not have a burning desire to attend. Why? I’m very similar to John Newton in that I like my Calvinism as I do my sugar:
‘I am more of a Calvinist than anything else; but I use my Calvinism in my writings and my preaching as I use this sugar’—taking a lump, and putting it into his tea-cup, and stirring it, adding, ‘I do not give it alone, and whole; but mixed and diluted.’
Conferences like this hold very little appeal to me because I think they are largely distracting. And if I had any counsel to give to the non-Calvinists among us I would say that it would be to their benefit to make their non-Calvinism like their sugar.
If your position is true then proclaim it as truth and stop spending so much time battling this New Calvinism. If it’s of the Lord then you’re battling Him. If it’s not of the Lord then it’ll eventually die and fizzle. Just keep proclaiming the truth as faithfully as you can. God’s is faithful to His gospel and He’ll lead His church into all truth.
Honestly I think this is part of the reason why Calvinism has seen a resurgence…
Fundamentally, I would argue that Calvinism is surging for God-ordained reasons. But even if you don’t care to agree with that, consider with me the practical reasons. You have to admit that there is a great movement among younger generations to focus on Christ and His gospel and not be tied down by a ton of controversy. I believe that is part of the appeal of Together for the Gospel for my generation.
Look at the 2006 conference. Yes, all the speakers were Calvinists. But that’s not the driving force in the conference. That year it was preaching. Their Calvinism was used like sugar; mixed and diluted. In 2008 the only message that was overtly Calvinistic was John MacArthur’s on the doctrine of absolute inability.
2010 and 2012 were the two that I have been able to attend. And I left those conferences without one thought about Calvinism. I left those conferences reinvigorated with a love for Jesus and a new drive to engage in Christ-honoring ministry. Why? Because though all the speakers are Calvinists and their Calvinism shapes everything it is “mixed and diluted”**.
And this is the way it ought to be. That’s why when I hear conferences like T4G being advertised I get excited and hope that I can attend. Sure it makes me comfortable knowing that these guys largely have the same theological leanings that I do. But at the end of the day what really drives me is a passion to see Jesus Christ the only boast of this generation.
This is also why I wouldn’t attend the John 3:16 Conference even if I weren’t Reformed. I’d likely stay away from a John 6:44 Conference as well. For me it depends on what the driving force is behind the conference. If it’s a get together to discuss theology and you hope that everybody leaves being informed about New Calvinism, Old Calvinism, Good Calvinism, Bad Calvinism, Ugly Calvinism, or anything of the sort I’ll stay home. As much as I like to discuss theology, I’ll save my limited conference money to go to some place where I’m going to walk away enthralled by the risen Savior.
I want to attend a conference whose aim is in some fashion to enjoy God and extend His glory.
**Now those with an idea that we Calvinists are involved in some sort of vast conspiracy will turn that “mixed and diluted” phrase and say that they are hiding their Calvinism and that people are swallowing errant theology without even knowing it. I guess theoretically that could be what is happening. But as one being shaped by the Spirit’s use of this movement I believe it is something much different. These men aren’t obsessed with Calvinism. They are Calvinists and yes it impacts the way they see everything, but it’s not the driving force behind these conferences.