Month: December 2011

Criswell College trustees approve church planting and renewal degree

DALLAS—The Criswell College Board of Trustees approved a new degree plan in church planting and revitalization (CPR) following extensive interviews with 12 nationally known leaders in the field of study who shared what school President Jerry Johnson described as “the best courses, best professors, best practices and best books.”

A committee of three Criswell professors developed the content, which could be studied as a major for the bachelor of arts degree in biblical studies or for a certificate in church planting.

“We have people who are middle-aged or seniors who want to come and learn church planting, but we’re also hoping to equip a lot of church planters who are not even looking for the degree,” Johnson added.

Among those who offered input on the curriculum were Barry Calhoun, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention church planting team leader, International Mission Board President Tom Elliff, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, Southern Baptist Convention President Bryant Wright and numerous church planters.

For information on enrolling in the program contact the school toll-free at 800-899-0012 or visit

The board also elected Barry K. Creamer as the new vice president of academic affairs, replacing Lamar E. Cooper Sr., who requested a return to full-time teaching in the areas of Old Testament and archaeology. (See related article.) Trustees recommended by the SBTC and the W.A. Criswell Foundation were approved for re-election and include: David Galvan, Garland; Curtis Baker, Lindale; Paul Pressler, Houston; Richard Land, Nashville; Susie Hawkins, Dallas; and Barbara Stephens, Dallas.

The board also approved a recommendation establishing a standing Investment Committee, housing allowances for 2012, the annual audit report, a tuition assistance policy for full-time faculty members to pursue more graduate and post-graduate level education, a faculty travel fund for attendance at professional conferences, and proposed college departmental outcomes.

Resolutions of appreciation honored the 25 years of service by Cooper and expressed appreciation for the life of Edward J. Drake, a former board member from Dallas who died Nov. 25.

Wilton among preachers at SBTC evangelism conference

FRISCO—South Carolina pastor Don Wilton will be among the speakers at the 2012 SBTC Empower Evangelism Conference, Feb. 27-29 at the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. The theme, “I Am Not Ashamed,” is taken from Romans 1:14-17.

This year’s conference will feature many familiar names, and one of those is Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, S.C. and president of The Encouraging Word, a ministry that broadcasts Wilton’s preaching and teaching across the United States.

In addition to his pastorate, Wilton has served on the faculty of New Orleans Seminary and has been a frequent speaker for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. A close friend of Graham, the noted evangelist considers Wilton his pastor.

He is the author of numerous books such as “Starting for the Finish,” “Totally Secure,” “The Absolute Certainty of Life After Death,” and “When God Prayed.”

Other scheduled guests at the Empower Evangelism Conference include Alabama evangelist Junior Hill, pastors such as Florida’s Ted Traylor and Bob Pearle of Fort Worth, and denominational leaders such as International Mission Board President Tom Elliff.

Also among the speakers will be Steve Scheibner, a former pastor and American Airlines pilot who was bumped at the last minute as pilot of one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. A video about Scheibner’s experience titled “In My Seat: A Pilot’s Story” may be viewed at   

Musicians for the conference will include Charles Billingsley of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., and Grammy-winning vocalist Larnelle Harris as well as Ernie Haase and Signature Sound. Praise teams from First Baptist Church of Odessa and Birchman Baptist in Fort Worth will also appear.


  • The Spanish-language sessions that coincide with the conference include a Saturday workshop (Feb. 25) at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano that includes breakfast and lunch, and a Sunday evening rally (Feb. 26) at the Dr. Pepper Center in Frisco.
  • The Ladies’ Session of the conference is planned from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 27.
  • The Conference of Texas Baptist Evangelists will meet at the convention center from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and will feature the preaching of Larry Taylor, Jon Randles and Don Cass.

The Monday evening session will include Gardendale, Ala., pastor Kevin Hamm, Steve Gaines, pastor of Belleview Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, and Scheibner.

Tuesday morning will feature Pearl, Georgia evangelist Jerry Pipes, and Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, S.C.

On Tuesday afternoon, Marc Farnell, pastor, Crossridge Church in Little Elm, will preach, as will First Baptist Odessa pastor Byron McWilliams and Wichita Falls evangelist Jay Lowder.

On Tuesday night, preachers will include Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas; and Robert Smith, professor of divinity and Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.

Wednesday morning’s conclusion will feature Traylor, pastor of Olive Grove Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., Hill, a longtime Alabama evangelist, and the IMB’s Elliff.
Watch for more details online at

‘Top Shot’ Dustin Ellermann visits Fort Worth church

FORT WORTH—A “nobody from Nowhere, Texas” is what the History Channel’s “Top Shot” for season three, Dustin Ellermann, called himself in an interview given to the National Rifle Association recently. Although he had watched the show and was a big fan, the thought of actually being a contestant wasn’t even a thought for this Christian kids’ camp director who told his story at Southcliff Baptist Church in Fort Worth last month.

Sixteen contestants are chosen out of thousands to “shoot it out” for the title of “Top Shot.” This is a title given to a marksman—man or woman—who can withstand physically demanding, almost impossible, challenges with accuracy and endurance.

The prize: $100,000, and the prestigious title of “Top Shot.”  

The contestants included a national revolver champion, two homeland security agents, a former Navy SEAL, two cops, a nurse and several firearms instructors. Two of the competitors were self-taught, including Ellermann.

Asked why he applied for the show, Ellermann said, “Really, I was told by a friend that I should put my name in to the History Channel for Top Shot, and thought it sounded fun. I didn’t think I’d hear back from them though.”

He added, “I just sent an e-mail with my picture and said, ‘Hey, I work at a Christian kids’ camp, I’m a foster parent, love God, love kids, oh, yeah, and I like to shoot and I’m pretty good at it too.’”

He was called the next day out of 20,000 who had applied.

“I know I was chosen as the ‘token’ Christian guy,” Ellermann said with a smile, “but I think it was God’s favor.”

During the show, comments were made to Ellermann by other contestants saying, “Aren’t you supposed to be at your Christian camp teaching kids how to read the Bible?” Yes, he does that too.

With a pregnant wife, two children, and many more responsibilities as the director for Camp His Way in the small town of Zavalla in the piney woods of East Texas, Ellermann left for the competition. “It was tough, I had to be away from my family for a total of six weeks,” Ellermann said. “But I knew that God had a plan in it; I mean how else would any of this had happened?” Dustin said through the experience he was able to be a quiet yet widely heard witness for Jesus Christ.

“I was in an environment that I wasn’t used to, being surrounded by some pretty rough and tough characters,” Ellermann said, “but I wasn’t given this gift by the Lord to show up and judge or condemn those around me … I was there to be Jesus to all who surrounded me, and show love and acceptance.”

For example, “The first week I was there I think it was, one of the ‘coolest’ guys on the set came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Dustin, I’ve been watching you and how you react to things.’ ‘Uh-Oh,’ I thought to myself. But then he went on to say, ‘You’re one of the coolest Christians I know.’”

“I must’ve been doing what I should be doing with these guys,” Ellermann said.

Despite the drama going on between the competitors, Ellermann said he was just there for fun. He was considered the odd man out with no training or professional title, but Ellermann wasn’t trusting in his credentials to get him through. Rather he was trusting in God.

Carroll Marr, pastor of Southcliff, said: “I wanted our people, those who know Christ, to walk away with an understanding that God can and will use them to accomplish his purposes. Even our hobbies can be tools in God’s hand.”

Ellermann’s appearance that Sunday was also used as an evangelism tool to attract those who would not have been receptive to his message otherwise.

“The first person I met Sunday morning,” Marr related, “was a man with his son who had heard about the event through a handout at a local gun shop. His son was a fan of the show … and loved Dustin.” The father and son sat on the front row and were engaged through the entire service, though they were not church goers, Marr said.

To read about Ellermann’s ministry, visit

SBTC offering January ‘Embrace’ mission labs

The SBTC is offering “labs” for churches interested in the Embrace strategy to engage unengaged, unreached people groups (UUPGs).

“These labs will help churches to understand what it means to embrace a UUPG and what they will need to give in the process,” said SBTC missions associate Chad Vandiver.

Churches will hear from a Southern Baptist pastor who has led his church to embrace a UUPG, Vandiver said, and they have the opportunity to network with other churches and pastors who have begun the journey to embracing a UUPG.

Churches will also hear about future training sessions on embracing a UUPG, Vandiver said.

Registration is available online at the following links:

  • Jan. 14: Embrace Lab-North Texas at FBC Euless, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.;
  • Feb. 11: Embrace Lab-East Texas at Champion Forest BC in Houston, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.;
  • Feb. 18: Embrace Lab-South Texas at Castle Hills First Baptist Church, San Antonio, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.;
  • March 10: Embrace Lab-West Texas at Redbud Baptist Church in Lubbock, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.;

For additional information, call the SBTC missions office toll-free at 877-953-7282 (SBTC) or e-mail Gayla Harris at

A truce for the holidays

History has many examples of military combatants setting aside their fight for special occasions. Our War Between the States produced many personal tales of cease fires to allow care for the wounded or recovery of the dead. Sentries sometimes would arrange trade of food or tobacco between the lines. Religious holidays that both sides had in common, Easter and Christmas particularly, were times when local exchanges of seasonal good will were offered. The most well-known Christmas cease fire may have occurred during the Great War near Ypres, Belgium in 1914. In this case, British and German troops actually came out of their lines to sing together, trade souvenirs and food, and to bury their dead. Smaller versions of this Christmas truce occurred later in the war but they were officially discouraged and made less likely by the increasing horror of that particular war.

In thinking of Christmas, I’m reminded of strange tales I’ve seen and heard about people unable to understand the mentality behind these truces. Surely, the German, French, British, and Canadian troops that took a few minutes away from the war were not also laying aside their patriotism or whatever convictions they had regarding the issues surrounding the war. Many had likely known friends who died at the hand of the enemy they now wished “Merry Christmas.” But they were all lonely men, far away from home on what is either the best or worst night of the year for those who celebrate Christmas. For that night, they had that in common—that plus the hope that their lives would not always be full of mud, blood, and slaughter.

Some of us are unable to understand that the real offenses and important differences that divide people, even family members, are not always the most important issues of the moment. We are prone to forget that we are also far from home, living in a world that will not always be filled with the mournful sounds of battle.

I think of those who will not attend the funeral of a parent because they disagreed over a business matter. I’ve heard of parents who do not attend the wedding of a child to avoid seeing an ex-spouse—even of children who do not invite parents to a wedding because of some earlier battle. And brothers and sisters sometimes will not even contact one another for years at a time because of nothing any of them count as crucial—just pride and unforgiveness.

Is this the way things are always going to be? No, the redemption story that begins in Genesis 3 does not end there by a long shot. There is a disarming and leveling humanity about the most exalted or debased among us as we sit together in a funeral home or around a Thanksgiving meal. And here I don’t mean only the fallenness of humanity but the person inside who longs for something more perfect than his normal experience of life. We are, each of us who follows Christ, creatures who groan within ourselves and eagerly await the manifestation of the sons of God. Now and again, it is appropriate that we should behave as though this is true.

Friends, surely you know that I do not subscribe to the “don’t talk about religion, sex, and politics in polite company” rule of etiquette. Polite company need not be the exclusive domain of airheads, I think. I’ve more than once been lifted intellectually and spiritually by conversation with others in the most polite company I know. But we also know when our conversation about the most important subjects of life is merely impish, divisive for the sake of our own amusement. We know when we are disturbing the peace inappropriately.

I’m blessed to remember my grandparents, and even my great grandparents. My Great Grandma Garrison was a pious gentle lady who grew up in the country. When I knew her, you could walk from her house to the homes of three of her children in less than 30 minutes. Great Grandma wouldn’t let us hunt squirrels on Sunday afternoon because “nothing should die on the Lord’s day.” I don’t remember any of us being inclined to ignore her opinion. There is a hierarchy in extended family that gentled me. Quarrels with my siblings or parents were set aside at Granny’s house or Great-Grandma’s house. It just felt like a reasonable respect. No one had to tell me that my own pettiness and cruelty were too ugly for these audiences with our clan matriarchs. It was an understanding of etiquette that clearly showed that all of us knew what mattered and what could be put aside for a bit.

If you’re blessed with loved ones you’ll see this Christmas, honor the occasion as a preview of what will be rather than a tired rehash of past outrages. Maybe there is someone conspicuously not present or welcome as you gather around the table. Just for once, wouldn’t it be a relief to leave past grievances outside? We often regret not having done that after it’s too late for anything but regret.

Christmas, above all holidays, can be about the promise of redemption. That redemption was planned, even accomplished in Heaven before the foundation of the world. In our present-tense life it became substantial when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. God’s sons and daughters can celebrate that by doing more than singing the best music and reading the best things in the Scriptures. We can try to see those we rarely understand as fellow shepherds and kings who come before the newborn Savior because our spirits groan within us. We need peace, and not for just this one glorious night.

M.Div. grad helping save babies, mothers

FORT WORTH—On a flat-screen television monitor visible from an outside window, a black and white image of a tiny hand seemed to wave at everyone in the room. Then the outline of a face became visible and on a bedside monitor of the same image, a heartbeat thudded rhythmically, signaling a little person only six weeks along in the womb of its mother was alive and moving.

Unfortunately, not all lives that begin get the chance to continue. According to the Planned Parenthood-affiliated Guttmacher Institute, 22 percent of all pregnancies end in abortion.

In 2008, that meant more than 1.2 million women chose to abort their children. With the help of Diane Montgomery and her colleagues at the Fort Worth Pregnancy Center, though, some of those lives will have a chance to continue—a chance to grow up and a chance to make their own choices.

“[These mothers] don’t know what to do,” Montgomery said. “They need someone to listen to them. They need someone to care about them because everyone else is just saying, ‘Do what you’ve got to do for your own self. It’s your body.’ And nobody is really listening to the emotional troubles they are having, and so through that, because we care for them and listen to them, it opens a door for not only the potential of lives to be chosen, but for her life to be changed, for the Lord to influence her life and spiritually to be changed as well.”

Montgomery, who began volunteering at the center shortly before she took a staff position there in August, said the Lord used her time in studying for her master of divinity degree at Southwestern Seminary to prepare her to minister to the women in crisis.

“I was applying all that I was learning here into writing and ministry, so I was applying a lot of the academic stuff, but I wanted to apply the practical [aspect]—to get down to the women of the real world— and I wanted to give back to the community,” she said. “You’re poured into so much here at Southwestern, and I wanted to pour into other women who have no clue what they’re missing out on.”

With women aborting 6,000 babies in Tarrant County each year, Montgomery said the center is in constant need of help, be it time, money or prayer.

“We always need volunteers because it breaks my heart when we have to turn away women because we don’t have enough volunteers and we don’t have someone that can meet with them,” she said. “I think Southwestern women would be ideal volunteers because whether they’re a wife of a student or they are a student, they’re getting the training, they have a heart for ministry, and they understand the practical side of helping people in crisis.”

The center does not just need women, but men, too, added Montgomery, whose husband, Alex, plans to get involved in the crisis pregnancy ministry.

“He wants to become a volunteer to help those guys who are sitting there in the waiting room when their girlfriend is with us, who just say, ‘OK, yeah, it’s your choice. You can do whatever you want. I support you.’ And they have no idea what an abortion really means,” Montgomery said. “We have guy counselors that go in there to encourage them to know how to support their girlfriend or wife in this situation and to educate them on what’s going on in their girlfriend’s body, in their mind, what would happen with her during an abortion or adoption and just kind of how to be a man in a relationship.”

Though she and Alex will deploy as missionaries to Columbia sometime in 2012, Montgomery said she plans to take the crisis pregnancy ministry with her.

“There’s a huge need for pregnancy centers where we are going,” she said. “Legal and illegal abortions are rampant. There is no pregnancy center that gives these women alternatives. They feel like they are stuck there. I just hope that I touch not only women in Tarrant County but also women in South America because it is a huge issue.”

Montgomery, who was named in October as the 2011-2012 Priscilla Scholarship recipient, came to Southwestern after graduating from Tarleton State University. A tennis player with dreams of opening her own bakery, she never imagined God would lead her into ministry, but she followed willingly wherever he led her.

“I started out in the master of arts in Christian education degree,” Montgomery said. “After taking Mrs. Patterson’s biblical theology of womanhood, I just wanted more. She spurred me on to want to know more, to grapple more with Scripture, to know more about women in Scripture. It was the Lord doing a work in me.”

That spurring led Montgomery to switch to the master of divinity in women’s studies degree, which she completed in May 2011. She said her involvement in women’s programs during her time at the seminary has developed skills and ministries in her that she never would have predicted for her life.

“The program offers you so much education and preparation that you can do anything. Because of the women’s program here, the Lord developed in me a writing ministry that I never thought I’d be able to do,” explained Montgomery who, with two other women, writes content for a website——and is working on a book.

From the pregnancy center to her writing to meeting her husband in a personal evangelism class, Montgomery said the Lord has determined her path. Whether going door-to-door or working at the pregnancy center, Montgomery said she strives to share the hope and truth of Scripture.

“That is kind of how I got turned on to the pregnancy center, was my love for women and ministering to women and then also a love for the gospel,” she said. “It’s the perfect opportunity that I can love on women, that I can help them, and that I can share the Lord with them. It’s just kind of the perfect place for that.”

Bible institute meets need in far West Texas

ODESSA—Growing up in East Texas, Jared Wellman was surrounded by multiple institutes for continuing education.

“When I moved to West Texas, two things became evident to me,” said Wellman, who became pastor of Mission Dorado Baptist Church in Odessa earlier this year. “First, people were starving for Bible education, and second, there wasn’t any local Bible education. Sure, the church teaches the Bible, but people were searching for something likened to a college. When you hear the word ‘Bible study’ in church today, it usually means a small group which is more applicative than educational.”

Out of this void, Mission Dorado Baptist Institute (MDBI) was born.

“I wanted to provide a place that offered real, deep, and authentic Bible education,” Wellman said. “We held people accountable through weekly reading and quizzes, among other things. I handed out a syllabus on the first day so that the class knew what to expect.”

MDBI opened its doors in the church facilities this fall. One course was offered for the first semester. “The Lord had already spoken to me some time ago to do a study on Heaven and this seemed like the perfect time,” Wellman noted. “It is a subject that is not talked about too often and people are interested in it.”

With the support of the church, MDBI held a registration night so people could sign up for the course, “A Biblical Survey of Heaven,” and purchase the textbook.

“The response was overwhelming,” he said. “We had 114 people register.”

Participants included church members and non-members. One student, Lucy Smith, traveled from San Angelo, about two hours away. “This just shows the thirst for rich Bible study with accountability,” Wellman said.

The desire for Bible study and an interest in the subject matter led Smith to enroll, she explained. Smith formerly worked in Midland as a licensed counselor, but moved to San Angelo after retirement. Following the death of her husband earlier this year, Smith decided to go back to her counseling work in Midland two days a week. One of her clients mentioned MDBI and its upcoming first semester class on Heaven.  

“If it hadn’t been for this client, I wouldn’t have known about it,” Smith said. “If anyone mentions institutes and learning, I’m there.” Smith has to stay over an extra night in Midland, but she said the sacrifice is worth it.

“I’ve progressed with learning on the Heaven topic,” she said. The death of her husband made the study of Heaven very important to her, she noted. “I’ve found comfort there.”
Gayle Dobbs, a member of Mission Dorado Baptist Church, said she also found comfort and peace through her studies at MDBI. “I’ve always envisioned Heaven as a celestial choir,” Dobbs said. “Frankly, I don’t sing well and I was just thrilled to know that we are going to be busy and have a full life in Heaven. Every day is going to be fabulous.”

“Because the first course concerned a topic that many have not ever studied, we have seen some large steps made in people’s understanding of the Bible,” Wellman said. “My goal was to show people that the Bible is the very best book that a person can read who wants to know about Heaven. I think people’s eyes have been opened to the hope we have of being a resurrected people, with our resurrected King, in a resurrected world.”

With one semester completed, Wellman said he is looking toward the future of MDBI. In the short term, he is planning two classes for the second semester, one on apologetics and the other on Islam. “My hope is that the excitement continues to press on as we tackle other topics in the semesters to come.”

Wellman added: “My ultimate hope and vision for the MDBI is that we can become a solidified Southern Baptist educational organization for those who are interested in studying the Bible in West Texas. Only the Lord knows what he is going to do with the MDBI, but it has been an incredible journey so far.”

For more information about Mission Dorado Bible Institute, visit and click on the “ministries” tab and then “Bible Institute.”

Southwestern Seminary opens new 3,500-seat chapel, SBTC baptismal

FORT WORTH—Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary opened its new 3,500-seat chapel on Dec. 1 with a daylong celebration, including a ribbon cutting, dedication chapel service, baptisms and a free Christmas concert. The opening of the J.W. MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center represents the largest venue of its kind in Fort Worth.

The 96,000-square-foot complex will serve as the setting for the seminary’s weekly chapel services, graduation ceremonies, musical performances, conferences and other special events. Beginning in July 2012, it will also house the “Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible” exhibition.

Preaching during a morning chapel service from 1 Kings 8:22-30, school President Paige Patterson said his prayer for the chapel was similar to Solomon’s dedicatory prayer for the temple—that it would be a place to honor the name of the Lord, a place to seek his face, and a place to experience his presence.

Citing the many uses of the chapel and events that will come, Patterson said, “Never miss the point that all of that is add-on. It comes to nothing if certain things are not true of this place. All we seek of God today is that he will choose this place, that his presence will be known and experienced here.”

Patterson noted that many have asked him recently if he is excited about the new chapel, to which he responded, “Not yet.”

“I can’t be excited about it until I see what you’ve heard from the lips of several today, that it has moved from being a building to a house of transaction—when I see that transactions of eternal consequence begin to take place here and people begin to find Christ as Savior and they’re drawn here to the Lord Jesus—because, ladies and gentlemen, that’s the only thing that matters in time and eternity.”

Patterson presented the gospel at the end of the service, inviting people to come forward to receive Christ or to pray about their relationship with the Lord. During the invitation, several people came forward to talk and pray with seminary professors.

Dignitaries from across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) attended the dedication service, including GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins, ERLC President Richard Land, and Golden Gate Baptist Seminary President Jeff Iorg. Three special guests brought greetings and shared their joy in the historic day: Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee; Hance Dilbeck, chairman of Southwestern’s board of trustees; and Heinrich Derksen, president of Bibleseminar Bonn, a German partnership with the seminary.

Built by Manhattan Construction, the same company that built Cowboys Stadium, MacGorman Chapel is also designed as a venue for top-quality stage productions and musical events.

Alongside its excellent acoustics, the auditorium features state-of-the-art sound, video, and lighting systems, as well as a combination pipe-digital organ that can support congregational worship as well as large choral and instrumental ensembles. The main stage is large enough for a 90-piece orchestra and 200-voice choir. Two projection screens are mounted on each side of the stage, each one equivalent to a 330-inch television. Behind the stage, choir and orchestra rehearsal rooms provide space for musicians to prepare, and a hospitality suite offers a reception area for intermissions and private gatherings.

Immediately following the chapel dedication service, guests gathered in the main lobby for the dedication of The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Baptismal Pool. The SBTC provided funds for the dual-purpose fountain and baptismal pool, which serves as a symbol of the seminary’s commitment to evangelism and missions as well as Baptist views on the meaning and mode of baptism.

To cap off the daylong celebration, Southwestern’s School of Church Music presented Christmas at Southwestern, an annual concert featuring Christmas carols and pieces from Rutter’s “Magnificat” and Handel’s “Messiah.” The free concert open to the public garnered widespread appeal, resulting in a near-capacity audience.

The MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center is available to groups interested in hosting performances, conferences, graduations, or other special events. To inquire about holding an event in MacGorman Chapel, call 817-923-1921, ext. 2440.

To read individual stories about various places in the chapel and to view photo slideshows, visit

Intersection of Calvinism, evangelism discussed during SBTC-Criswell dinner

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to space constraints in the last TEXAN, this story was held for this edition.

IRVING—Evangelism and God’s sovereignty were the focus of a dinner and dialogue Nov. 15 at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in Irving.

The event, co-hosted by Criswell College and the SBTC, featured Calvinist Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and non-Calvinist Barry Creamer, newly elected vice president for academic affairs and professor of humanities at Criswell College. They answered questions from moderators Jerry Johnson, president of Criswell College, and Jim Richards, SBTC executive director. Nearly 500 people attended the dialogue.

Dever said that while believers must share the gospel, salvation is God’s sovereign work.

“Any credit, any good that happens from (evangelism) will be because it’s God’s Holy Spirit who’s working through your faithful evangelism and bringing people to know himself by his sovereign mercy,” Dever said. “And we know it (evangelism) is going to work. That’s the great hope that I have in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God for evangelism.”

Creamer agreed but took issue with several doctrines of traditional Calvinism:

  • Though sinners reject God when left to themselves, God gives lost people the ability to believe or reject the gospel, Creamer said.
  • “The missing essential in any condemned person’s salvation … is not whether God has chosen or elected them to salvation,” he said.
  • “The missing essential ingredient in any condemned person’s salvation is not whether God intended Christ’s death for them, nor whether Christ’s atonement extended to them,” Creamer said.
  • People can reject the gospel even if God intended to save them and worked to save them through Christ’s death, according to Creamer.

Those who hold Reformed theology lose “one of the major psychological motivations for evangelism,” Creamer said, by not believing that people’s salvation depends on their witness. He added that his objection to Calvinism is based on the Bible, not on the idea that Calvinism is unfair.

Since Creamer believes that Jesus died for some people who eventually go to Hell, Johnson asked him to explain how his position does not entail an unjust “double payment”—making lost people pay for sins that Jesus has already paid for.

Creamer responded that those who suggest an unfair “double payment” wrongly reduce the atonement to a matter of accounting. Christ died for everyone as a broad demonstration of his love, Creamer said.

“I actually can’t conceive of a stronger way to understand God’s love than that he demonstrates fully his love towards people who contemptuously reject him,” Creamer said. “I think that’s part of the picture in the Old and New Testament. I think he extends it to people who reject him.”

Creamer said he does not hesitate to tell anyone that Christ died for him, unlike some Reformed believers who are more comfortable telling large audiences only that “Christ died for sinners.”

Johnson asked Dever how God can condemn the lost for failing to believe the gospel if Jesus did not die for them. “If they’re damned for unbelief, what did they not believe? If Christ did not die for their sins on the cross, how could there be condemnation linked to unbelief?” Johnson asked.

Unbelievers “are rejecting what God is telling us,” Dever said. “They’re calling him a liar. They’re choosing to stand on their own in front of God to justify their own life.”

Dever and Creamer agreed churches must contextualize the gospel by stating it in language that their audiences can understand. They added that there are many valid styles of worship but cautioned against contextualizing to the point of compromise.

“I know all the interest is on contextualization,” Dever said. “But I want to tell (pastors), if you think the most important things about your mission are what is distinct to the people you’re trying to reach, then you’re not understanding the gospel because the most important things about any true Christian church or any Christian, from Jesus until now, are those things that we have in common.”

Richards asked how each man felt about supporting church planters through the Cooperative Program who may hold the opposite view on the Calvinism spectrum.

“We are well aware that the SBC is certainly not a fully Reformed fellowship,” Dever said. “It is obviously a fully evangelical fellowship. And as long as John Wesley has the gospel, he’s my friend and I am thankful for him. And I want to support gospel work because that non-Christian is not asking whether or not I believe in limited atonement. They need to hear the gospel.”

Yet Dever said Reformed Southern Baptists are confused by the mixed messages they hear from their non-Reformed brothers and sisters. On one hand, many non-Calvinists in the SBC say they want both camps to work together. At the same time, others refuse to hire or work with Calvinists, he said, adding that he does not understand the motives of the antagonistic group.

According to Creamer, the antagonism is a response to the way some Calvinists illegitimately use God’s sovereignty as an excuse for not witnessing with zeal. He noted that not all Calvinists lack of zeal for evangelism, and said Calvinists should be included in the convention.

Dever and Creamer also addressed the similarities and differences between the Calvinism of 19th-century Southern Baptists and the brand of Calvinism popular in the SBC today.

Creamer said the two are related, but contemporary SBC Calvinism is largely a reaction to some unbiblical and manipulative methods of evangelism used during the last three decades of the 20th century.

Dever noted that while there were some non-Calvinists when the SBC was founded, there was far more unanimity regarding Reformed theology among Southern Baptists in 1845 than there is today.

Both said honesty and transparency about theological beliefs are vital when prospective pastors interview with search committees.

“It’s not good to defer the conflict,” Creamer said, encouraging Calvinists to reveal their position during the interview process.

When asked whether pastors should give public invitations, Dever said every sermon should include a call to repent of sin and trust Christ. However, he said the means of expressing belief can vary—from talking to a pastor after the service to an altar call or other method.

Baptism is the only physical response to the gospel mandated by Jesus, according to Dever.

Creamer said, “The invitation is not about getting people to walk the aisle. It’s not about praying. It’s not about acts. But those things may be expressions (of faith).”

Though virtually all theologians agree that exercising faith and receiving new birth from the Holy Spirit happen at the same moment in time, Dever and Creamer disagreed over which comes first logically.

Creamer said new birth comes as a result of exercising faith in Christ. Dever argued that men and women could exercise faith only as a result of the Holy Spirit causing them to be born again. They agreed that faith is essential for salvation and that faith comes only in response to the Word of God.

SBC baptism numbers are declining as a result of unbiblical evangelistic methods, Dever said.

“We had a ton of false conversions, and I think non-Christians don’t really evangelize,” he said. “So churches are full of people that don’t know Jesus, and those people, of course, are not going to evangelize other people.”

Dever added that baptism statistics are not a completely accurate representation of evangelism in SBC churches because many congregations do not report their baptisms. Capitol Hill Baptist Church, for example, has baptized many people but has not reported its baptisms for years because it believes denominations do not need to track such numbers.

Creamer said baptisms have declined because Southern Baptists have focused on methods rather than the gospel.

“The church prospers when we focus on the gospel,” he said. “… And I think we don’t. We focus on methods. We focus on business models. We focus on everything else. Even when we have success, we’re not successful because we’re not getting the gospel out.”

God will draw all of the elect to himself and cause them to believe in Christ in response to hearing the Word of God, according to Dever—a doctrine traditionally referred to as “irresistible grace.”

“I’m quite confident that those that God has elected and his Son has died for will be the very ones to be regenerated and raised up the last day and resurrected as justified sinners,” Dever said. “It just gives a great foundation of joy.”

Creamer said grace is never irresistible. No one can believe in Christ without being drawn, but God draws many who do not respond with faith, he said.

In response to a question by Dever, Creamer said his position on irresistible grace is similar to that of John Wesley.

Johnson asked what the Bible means when it calls Christians “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.”

Dever responded that God chose specific individuals for salvation out of love and grace. “God knew who he was choosing,” he said.

Creamer argued that election refers to the Father’s choosing Christ and all those who follow him. There was no decision to choose specific individuals for salvation, he said.
“God chose Christ, and I’m elect when I’m in Christ,” Creamer said.

He asked Dever whether he believes in “double predestination”—the idea that God chooses some to be saved and some to be damned. Some contrast “double predestination” with “single predestination”—the idea that God chooses to save some and pass over others without actively choosing anyone to damn.

Dever replied that he does not see much logical difference between “double” and “single” predestination. He cited Romans 9 as Scriptural support for the idea that God destined some for eternal life and some for damnation. Still, Dever emphasized throughout the discussion that non-believers act willfully and are fully blameworthy.
Each called the other’s view inconsistent.

Creamer argued that it is inconsistent for a Calvinist to call the non-elect to believe because they are unable to obey the command. Dever responded that non-Christians are naturally capable of faith but refuse because their sinful hearts are averse to trusting Jesus.

Dever challenged Creamer by asking how he could argue that it is possible for all people to reject Christ when Scripture guarantees that some will be saved in the end. Creamer answered that God can make the promise without fulfilling it through a Calvinistic scheme.

In closing, both men emphasized the importance of calling the lost to turn from their sins and place their faith in Jesus.

“I hope you don’t fall into the kind of bad patterns that Barry mentioned of thinking that it doesn’t really matter if you witness to someone,” Dever said. “I hope our conversation here—whether it’s through Barry’s urgency or my confidence in God’s sovereignty—will encourage you to share the gospel with people.”

Creamer echoed the call to evangelism.

“I just hope … that we have had a renewed commitment to declaring clearly what Christ did in the world and what he overcame in the resurrection and what he has offered to people, and then extend to them … a compelling invitation to come to the gospel,” Creamer said.

Pastors speak up for Athens nativity scene

MALAKOFF—For the sake of his three young sons and the daughter he and his wife will soon adopt from Africa, Pastor Nathan Lorick says he has drawn a line in the dirt of his East Texas community in defiance of an atheist group’s demand that a nativity scene be removed from the lawn of the Henderson County Courthouse.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, at the behest of an anonymous Henderson County resident, sent a letter to county officials Dec. 1 stating the religious display was in violation of a United States Supreme Court decision and should be removed from county property. The Henderson County nativity sits amid a collection of Christmas-themed displays, including Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, a group of carolers and assorted gnomes.

“What are Christians going to do about this?” the 30-year-old pastor of First Baptist Church Malakoff asked in a phone interview with the TEXAN hours before an appearance at dawn on the nationally broadcast Fox & Friends television program. “It’s time for the silent majority to wake up, speak up and stand up.”

A majority of Henderson County commissioners said they opposed moving the nativity scene based on the FFRF complaint, according to the Malakoff News, reporting on a perspective shared by County Judge Richard Sanders. The county does not own the nativity scene nor the secular decorations, but allows a local group known as Light Up Athens to set them out on the courthouse lawn on the corner of Palestine and Corsicana streets in Athens.

While FFRF relied on a 1989 Supreme Court case argued by the ACLU as the basis for their complaint of an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, the group claimed the nativity scene on the courthouse lawn is the only seasonal display. Sanders said the county’s attorney had reviewed pertinent cases and found Henderson County to be in compliance with federal law.

In the letter to the judge, FFRF argues, “When the county allows this manger scene to be created, which depicts the legendary birth of Jesus Christ, it places the imprimatur of the county government behind the Christian religious doctrine.” The East Texas display is one of a dozen nativity scenes that the non-profit Wisconsin-based FFRF is working to eliminate.

Lorick is concerned at the ever-increasing secularization of America, noting that Christian symbols and speech are no longer a significant part of the fabric of the culture and often are marginalized or vilified.

That is not the America in which he wants to raise his children. Lorick and his wife, Jenna, have three sons ages 7, 4, and 2 years old. The couple is in the process of adopting a girl from Africa.

“My kids are young and it’s worth fighting to restore the fundamental Christian beliefs we were founded on for my kids’ future,” he said.

After the Malakoff newspaper broke the story on its Facebook page Dec. 6, Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio, a former Baptist Press employee, spread the word nationally, talking with Lorick by phone. Lorick told Starnes he wants his children to grow up in the same country that had the religious freedom and opportunity to “worship Jesus as I did.” That includes the soon-to-be daughter he and his wife are adopting.

“I want to teach her that this is a Christian society,” he told the TEXAN.

Lorick also questioned how one local resident and an organization on the other side of the country can turn his county on its head—a county, Lorick said, is predominantly evangelical. He feels a “moral, parental and spiritual responsibility” to stand against those who literally would take Christian expression out of the public square.

Recalling that well-known pastors like Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas have taken a stand for Christian convictions that prompted both notoriety and criticism, Lorick said excited to see young pastors speaking out this year in what he referred to as an annual Christmas tradition of atheists versus freedom of religious expression. He hopes his youth and pleas on behalf of his children will add a fresh dynamic to the argument.

Among those who joined Lorick in planning a Dec. 17 Nativity Rally are Robert Welch of Rock Hill Baptist in Brownsboro, Eric Graham of Sand Springs Baptist Church in Athens and Derek Rogers, a county resident who pastors the Cowboy Church of Corsicana. The group circulated a YouTube video at calling for Henderson County pastors to meet Dec. 9 at the Athens Sand Springs Baptist Church.

Speaking of himself and his peers, Lorick said, “There’s a generation coming up that is willing to take a stand and fight against that and bring our nation back to the Christian principles on which it was founded.”

In a Dec. 7 interview with KDFW-TV, FFRF founder Annie Laurie Gaylor said public displays of Christian symbols, such as the nativity scene, can be “intimidating” and send a message to non-Christians that they are not welcome in the county courthouse.

“The reason people come to us is because people are fearful of reprisals. They are fearful of stones being thrown through their window. They are fearful of losing their jobs, losing their friends, losing their clients because there is so much hostility if you speak up for separation of church and state,” Gaylor told the Dallas station.

Lorick and others want nothing to do with the kind of visceral response FFRF’s spokeswoman alleged.

“Disagreements should be spoken with love and respect,” he said. It is his hope that what is said and done in response to the atheist group’s demands will “go viral” in news and social media coverage and the entire situation can serve as a platform for the glory of God, he said.

—Tammi Reed Ledbetter contributed to this report.