Founders Conference at 1st St. Peters focuses on sufficiency of Scripture
By Allen Palmeri
March 22, 2005
ST. PETERS – The Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest experienced a large increase in attendance March 8-9, continuing a three-year upward trend where participation has more than doubled.
There were 173 registrants this year at First Baptist Church, St. Peters, up from 105 last year and 80 in 2003.
James White, director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Christian apologetics organization based in Phoenix, spoke three times on “The Sufficiency of Scripture.” Other preachers touched on the Doctrines of Grace (election, depravity, atonement, effectual calling and perseverance) out of their adherence to the theological foundation of the conference. The Founders organization began in 1982 for the perpetuation of historic Calvinistic doctrines within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Host Pastor Joe Braden, a member of the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board, said he was delighted by the number of people who came.
“I’m hoping it was an interest in the subject, trying to sort through the importance of Scripture’s sufficiency for the church,” Braden said. “It might have been Dr. White as well. He’s pretty widely known.”
White is one of three elders at Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, a congregation with 43 actual church members who regularly attend services. He was an 11-year member of a Southern Baptist church who remains tied to Southern Baptist life through his 10-year service as an adjunct professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, Calif.
At the seminary, White has taught apologetics, Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology and Christology. He has noticed a common tension in his classes.
“I have a real heart for the students that I teach and the fact that they are still being put in a position of having conflicting loyalties,” White said. “Many Southern Baptist seminary students feel conflicted between the pressures put upon them and sound biblical theology of what the church is. I hate to be the one who brings them to that position of seeing that conflict, but God has used that in very positive ways with people over the years.
“I see young people there who really, really, really want to learn more about the Word, but unfortunately a lot of Southern Baptist training is more on focusing them toward how they can run programs than on how they can truly minister the Word of God to people.
“We need to recognize that despite the fact that we are Baptists, we have our traditions, and very frequently we are afraid to examine our traditions in the light of Scripture. Because of that, we end up holding things that are contradictory to one another. The tradition very frequently ends up overrunning the desire to accurately preach the entirety of what the Word of God has to say. We say the Scriptures are sufficient, but because of our tradition, we end up doing things where we violate that sufficiency.”
An example of this is the tradition of the invitation system, which became prominent in the 1830s as Baptists took to the methods of Charles Finney.
“When I was in a Southern Baptist school, when we were taught homiletics, the whole thing was wrapped around finding the right transition point into the invitation system at the end,” White said. “I even raised the question at the time, ‘Aren’t there lots of passages of Scripture that you could be accurately handling that don’t really lend themselves to an evangelistic application?’ We were told, ‘Look, that’s got to be one of your greatest skills.’ So because of our tradition, we end up really robbing them of the meat of the Word because of our belief that every service has to have this kind of an ending to it. I just don’t see any biblical basis for that.”
The very word “inerrancy” can become a tradition as well, White said. He spoke of a prominent Southern Baptist professor who leans toward a Lutheran view as he teaches the doctrine of justification, leaning away from the fuller and more biblical position of James Boyce, principal founder of The Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Ky. Much of the so-called inerrancy in Southern Baptist life today truly falls short of what the sufficient Scriptures teach, White said.
“Inerrancy becomes a shibboleth, a test of orthodoxy that does not translate into life, if it is not seen in the categories of sufficiency,” White said. “Inerrancy can be viewed solely as confessing that the original autographs had no errors, but what it’s supposed to be referring to is the nature of Scripture as being God-breathed. It is God speaking. It is Matthew 22, where Jesus says to the Jews, ‘Have you not read what God spoke to you saying?’
“Inerrancy can be a concept you put on the table over there and walk out of the room. The Scripture being God speaking demands that inerrancy, but it then demands you can never walk out of the room and leave it because it has to go with you. It has to impact every part of your life. Otherwise, inerrancy becomes a cold, dead dogma that we think we‘ve got it all nailed down over there but once you’ve lost your passion for it, then it can start to erode and you’re not even looking at it anymore.”
As he continues to help train Southern Baptists for the ministry, White openly wonders whether their preaching will produce a mature Christian who after 10 or 20 years would possess godly character and a godly mind that would present a heart of wisdom in response to the world.
“That doesn’t happen by going over ‘The Four Spiritual Laws’ 52 times a year,” White said. “This comes up in the fact that a lot of us are canonically challenged. We think there are 27 really inspired books and 39 nice books for historical stuff but they’re not really as inspired as the other 27. How many of our people are going to get to heaven and run into Habakkuk, and Habakkuk’s going to go, ‘What did you think of my book?’ and they’re going to go, ‘Uh.’
“For the minister who would even want to preach through Amos, there is an understood pressure upon him to not do that because people aren’t going to like it. Why not? Maybe Amos isn’t quite as inspired as John. What does that really mean? Is that part of the sufficiency gap? I think it is.”
The invitation system is designed to help secure saving faith by prompting someone to confess Jesus publicly. White is concerned that this system often fails to place enough emphasis on repentance.
“We’re afraid of talking about what sin is,” he said. “We live in a society where just north of the border you have people being fined for taking out newspaper ads where they’re quoting from Leviticus on homosexuality. In a book I’ve written, you speak to homosexuals and call them to repentance and to faith in Christ for salvation, but we tend to skip the first part and go straight to the second part. Well, the second part makes no sense without the first part.
“You can’t jump into the middle of Romans 3 without Romans 1 and 2 and through 3:18. In Romans 3:19, Paul gives us a picture of a person who stands before the judge convicted and they’ve stopped making excuses. The picture of the person who is ready to hear the Gospel is the person who stands before the judge with his head bowed and his mouth silent. He recognizes the authority of the judge, he recognizes his own guilt, and he recognizes the propriety of the proclamation that is made against him. That person is ready to hear about a Savior. We’re doing no one any favors when we cut off that part and then just try to present to them a Savior. What are they going to do with Him?”
In his March 9 sermon on Luke 8:4-15, White cited Isaiah as the type of preacher who would have a hard time fitting into the mold of the traditional Southern Baptist pastor who relies on the invitation system.
“There are times when the proclamation of the Word of God is for judgment, not salvation,” White said.
Other speakers at the conference included Braden, Andy Chambers, vice president for student development, Missouri Baptist College, and Fred Hampton, campus pastor, Missouri Baptist College.