March 25, 2003
ST. PETERS – On the way out of First Baptist Church, St. Peters, are two signs that read "You are now entering the mission field." It is a clear indication that Joe Braden, pastor, is committed to evangelism.
Why, then, would Braden dare to host a conference March 11-13 for a small band of Southern Baptist Calvinists who are associated with the Founders ministry? Braden came right to the point.
"The origins of our Southern Baptist Convention were very comfortable with the doctrines of grace," Braden said, "with a great view of the sovereignty of God, a great view of God’s initiative in saving and rescuing sinners. That did not anesthetize early Southern Baptists. It did not sedate them. It stimulated them and motivated them to do missions and evangelism."
The seventh annual Founders Conference — Midwest included about 80 participants who gathered to celebrate the 300th birthday of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), a giant in American history whose preaching has stood the test of time.
"We’re not here to worship Jonathan Edwards," said Curtis McClain, conference chairman and professor of religion of Missouri Baptist College. "We’re here to worship his God and to take the message that he saw the Lord use to awaken the colonies to once again awaken the sleeping masses of the world."
The preaching of Edwards interested Chris Morgan, professor at California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., to the point where he researched 20 of his sermons. Morgan found that Edwards was central, direct, apologetic, Biblical, graphic, intense, forceful, earnest and urgent in his closing appeals. Edwards went after the lost that way.
For example, not only did Edwards use force to command sinners to repent, he was earnest in the use of that force.
"Edwards pleads with deep compassion for the lost," Morgan said. He also was driven by a sense of urgency that "presses sinners to seek to repent immediately."
When Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., stood before the gathering and read a sermon by Edwards from 1730, he came away convinced of "the need for some sort of a thorough reformation in preaching." Today’s preachers would do well to study what Edwards did, Nettles said, for the purpose of improving their evangelism.
Nettles has coined a phrase that describes his belief system. He calls himself an aggressive, evangelical Calvinist. Because Calvinism has become such a loaded word, it needs the other two words much like a hot dog needs catsup and mustard.
"Aggressive, evangelical Calvinism characterized the leaders of the mission movement among English Baptists, American Baptists and Southern Baptists," Nettles said.
"Calvinism is that view of the Gospel, and all of life, really, that sees God’s glory as the ultimate end. God works everything for His own glory. He is sovereign. He does all things.
"I call it evangelical Calvinism because its focus is on the need of conversion. Evangelical has all of these doctrines that move toward the necessity of being justified in the eyes of God by faith, and that comes only through conversion. The work of the Spirit brings us to faith in Christ, and the purpose of the preached message is to lay the context within which it is fitting that that happens. We preach that ye must be born again, and being born again is all of these things.
"They really saw this as their purpose. It was not just an admission they made on the side. They saw that as their mission. It involved the entire life up until glorification. We don’t cry out to anyone else but God, and they were aggressive about it."
Founders conferences like the one in St. Peters are designed to promote evangelism.
"I very much appreciate the historic emphasis that Southern Baptists have had on evangelism, and the zeal that continually exists within the leadership of the convention, and the attempt to devise means of getting churches involved in evangelism," Nettles said. "I don’t have any complaint about that. But what I think happens quite often is that in our zeal for evangelism we end up not doing evangelism because we so truncate and so minimize the Gospel that people are responding to something that is not really a Gospel.
"There are a lot of people who think they’ve received Christ who have never really dealt with their own unworthiness. It becomes just another feather in their cap."
For the greater good, Baptists ought to think through their methods, Nettles asserted.
"We should strategize," he said. "We should figure out how we can get to a particular person, or a particular group of people to get the Gospel to them. But if the Gospel presentation is merely a method that has been taught, and the person using the method has no real understanding himself of what the Gospel is, then the method is not going to be very effective."
Based on the teachings of Nettles, Morgan, Braden and others, it can be stated that an aggressive, evangelical Calvinist is one who is central, direct, apologetic, Biblical, graphic, intense, forceful, earnest and urgent in his appeals to the unconverted. This is what Braden calls the triumph of truth over technique.
"We want a revival of evangelism in our lives personally, we want a renewal of evangelism in our church, we want a renewal of evangelism among Missouri Baptists," Braden said.
"What we want people to know is the marvelous truth of the Gospel. That would then have a radical claim on their life. A conversion does not occur as a result of a casual decision or a quick prayer, but when we tell the truth of the incredible Gospel, we call people to a radical, life-changing, serious commitment."
Part of the personal pilgrimage that Nettles is on involves writing a book on these matters. Due out sometime next year through Christian Focus Publications, Baptist Profiles will be a study of Baptist identity.