Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Why I Wouldn’t Want to Attend the John 3:16 Conference Even If I Weren’t Reformed

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.


  1. A biblical theology impacts the way that we non-Calvinists see everything, and we want to affirm the scholasticism of our scriptural interpretations. I promise you that I'm nauseatingly disturbed by divisive rhetoric on both sides, and I have approached non-Calvinist brothers in the past with the purpose of offering rebuke and correction(and will continue to do so). Nevertheless, a theological conference that will offer a scholastic look at biblical interpretation from a specific point of view is not a bad thing.

    Many things are not helpful in the debate on Calvinism, but a conference to explain the Traditional (or biblicist, or non-Calvinist, etc.) interpretation of biblical soteriology would not be a waste of your time. If the conference is not, in fact, "irenic in tone," then I will be the first to admit it. However, Calvinists always seem to be ready to offer up their opinions quickly when their theology is challenged. Why can't we non-Calvinists do the same? And why not attend, Mike, just to "judge all things" (1 Cor. 2:15) and evaluate the perspectives against your own understanding of Scripture? When was the last time that you, Mike, blogged about why you don't visit aggressively militant blogs produced by Calvinists? I appreciate it deeply when five-pointers issue clear statements about the divisiveness of some of their own. I have almost stopped reading Lumpkins altogether because he is way too divisive in my opinion, and I have personally blogged about why extreme dogma in both camps is unhealthy. See for yourself:

    I love your writings, but the logic of your post doesn't add up to me. I have learned that the Founders are not divisive, though they are ready to sincerely talk and desire to do so about this particular issue. I would like for Calvinists to be quick to affirm their non-Calvinist brothers in the same way that many of us affirm them! And blogging about why you won't attend this conference doesn't help. I'm a non-Calvinist pastor taking 5 non-Calvinist deacons (with 1 Calvinist deacon) to T4G in 2014. And we won't make it a divisive issue because we each know why we believe what we believe. And I get pure joy knowing that our unity is greater than our differences.

    The Building Bridges conference had two perspectives: 1) Calvinism is absolutely right; and 2) Agree to disagree. But the perspective that Traditional soteriology is absolutely right was missing. I think we non-Calvinists need to affirm our scholarship and the biblical validity of our perspective, and that's the only reason I've resumed reading Lumpkins occasionally (I like Drs. Harwood and Gifford immensely). So, from your fellow brother in the faith who is a convinced non-Calvinist, the scholarly nature of my position needs to be told. I absolutely affirm the right of Calvinists to promote their perspectives even as I disagree with their interpretations of Scripture.

    Please understand that I say this in love, Mike, and will continue to read your blog (especially because of your notoriously clever titles of blog posts!). Grace and peace to you, brother.

    1. Thanks for the response, Ed.

      As far as writing articles calling out our own camps I think I've done that pretty fairly. Honestly, I ignore a good amount of militant Calvinistic blogs. They aren't even on my radar anymore. But there are several articles and comments at Voices that I've made pointing out our divisiveness. Here is one:

      I haven't a problem with people explaining their perspective. I'm just saying I don't care much about it. Even if it's from a Calvinist group. I think the better approach is to live out your perspective--explain it here and there, etc. and just let the truth of it work itself out.

      To me the whole thing often reeks of the worst of medieval scholasticism.

      Ed, I really do appreciate your response and your perspective. Thanks for the kindness of your words and the encouraging criticism. Blessings.

  2. I think it's fine if they want to get together and talk theology, but the title of the conference seems to be intentionally divisive. I don't see how it's edifying to imply that we as Calvinists don't believe John 3:16.
    The title seems like a tactic designed to scare uninformed Southern Baptists (people in the pew who will never attend the conference) away from Calvinism because if the title is John 3:16 and it's all about the dangers of Calvinism, then Calvinists must not believe John 3:16 and you better steer clear of them.
    I too thoroughly enjoyed the last T4G conference.

  3. Rick, saying that the John 3:16 conference implies that Calvinists don't believe John 3:16 is a bit absurd. You can interpret it that way if you wish, but the conference is not "all about the dangers of Calvinism." It is about an interpretation of Scripture that differs from Calvinism, and there's nothing at all wrong about it. If Calvinism were dogmatically and unequivocally the absolute truth concerning biblical soteriology, then the BF&M would leave no wiggle. As it stands, however, there is an intentional "big tent" confession that can include differing interpretations regarding the doctrine of salvation (among other doctrines). Would you suggest the conference organizers be more "biblical" by omitting the explicit biblical reference to John 3:16? You seem to be convinced that the conference is against Calvinism. The theology presented will certainly oppose the Calvinist interpretations of soteriology, but that doesn't mean the men on stage are against Calvinists per se.

    If Spurgeon can say, "Calvinism IS the gospel" (emphasis mine), then Vines can say "Calvinism...would be a move away from the gospel." Now, to be fair, I don't think either statement helps, but both are honest opinions of godly men. In 2010, T4G - which is exclusively Calvinist - was themed "The Unadjusted Gospel." So, since I'm not Calvinist, I preached an "adjusted" gospel? Yeah, right. Listen, if I can handle T4G, why can you not handle the John 3:16 Conference?

    I truly believe some are looking to be offended. In all honesty, the biggest jerks I've ever met in my life are not thugs and hustlers, but Calvinists. Now that's an honest statement from irrefutable personal experience. However, there is one non-Calvinist who makes that list, too, and yet I know incredible men of both persuasions who are great friends of mine. I will believe the best about my Calvinist friends until I'm either shown that they mean harm or they exclude me from fellowship and service. Then we will have a problem, and NOT by my choosing. But I love Christian brothers and sisters, regardless of theological persuasion, and will believe the best about them until I'm shown otherwise.

    The biggest challenge is balancing doctrine and unity. God bless us all as we attempt to do it with the wisdom of God.

  4. I'd love to go but it's our Spring Break Week and I'm already scheduled to lead a Mission Trip to Aguascalientes, Mexico.

    The speakers are top notch, their Traditional theological position is the one I espouse, and I would look forward to attending it as much as any Calvinist would look forward to 9 Marks, T4G, Acts 29 boot camp or whatever.

    Different strokes for different folks.

    By the way, this statement is just weird: "If your position is true then proclaim it as truth and stop spending so much time battling this New Calvinism."

    Don't you see? We're promoting Traditionalism, which just so happens to totally contradict Calvinism, but we are not so much against your position as we are in favor of our position. In other words, the views themselves are in conflict. To promote ours is to attack yours, and to promote yours is to attack ours.

    The tone is not anger, but the beliefs are mutually exclusive doctrinally.



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