GREENSBORO, N.C.–Saying they hope to serve as models for the rest of the Southern Baptist Convention, seminary presidents R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Paige Patterson June 12 discussed their differences over the doctrine of election, stressing that believers can disagree on the topic while remaining friends and unified in the goal of evangelism and missions.
“I do hope … we will provide at least an example on that point, if on no other,” Patterson said.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Patterson, president of Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, discussed Calvinism during two one-hour-long breakout sessions of the SBC Pastors’ Conference.
Mohler affirms all five points of Calvinism, while Patterson affirms at least one–eternal security. The sessions, titled, “Reaching Today’s World Through Differing Views of Election,” drew standing room only crowds.
Each man spoke for 20 minutes before fielding questions submitted prior to the session. Saying that Patterson is a “friend in the gospel,” Mohler pointed to former great men of faith–such as John Wesley and George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon and D.L. Moody–who had disagreements over election but nonetheless considered one another Christian brothers and “cooperated together in evangelism.”
“This is a conversation among close friends,” Mohler said.
Patterson began his segment by saying, to laughter, “The real question we are here to discuss today is whether or not you are here on your own free will.”
He listed six areas in which he and Calvinists agree–areas for which he said he has great appreciation. Calvinists, Patterson said: “usually lead very pious lives”; believe theology is important; generally are “very clear about the dangers involved in the charismatic movement; “understand the purpose of everything is to glorify God”; “never question the inerrancy of Scripture or the substitutionary atonement of Christ”; and “are crystal clear about the fact that salvation is by grace alone.”
But Patterson also said there are several areas of concern he has with “some Calvinists,” including:
> the notion that if “you are not a Calvinist then you must be an Arminian.” He said he is neither.
> the argument that “if you are not a Calvinist then you do not accept the doctrines of grace.” Patterson said, “I believe that salvation is by grace alone, and I’m not a Calvinist.”
> the assertion that those who are not Calvinists don’t believe in the sovereignty of God. “I just happen to believe that God is sovereign enough that he can make a man totally free if he wishes to do so,” Patterson said.
Patterson said he views the doctrine of election through the “foreknowledge of God.” He also said he sees no biblical evidence for “irresistible grace”–one of the tenets of Calvinism.
During his segment Mohler said it was “good and healthy” for Southern Baptists to discuss theology.
“It’s a sign of a mature denomination,” said Mohler, who was speaking one day after undergoing eye cornea surgery, and obviously was bothered by the bright lights. “? We may be the last people alive who can have an honest disagreement.”
Southern Baptists, Mohler said, affirm God’s sovereignty in salvation even if they don’t call themselves Calvinists.
“In your local church, when you send out an evangelism team, you don’t say, ‘Good luck,’” he said. “You pray that God will open hearts and open minds. When we listen to ourselves pray, we really do hear a strong confidence in the sovereignty of God.
“ … The doctrine of election explains why we go with confidence to share the gospel—because God does call sinners to himself, through the blood of Jesus Christ.
“As the parable of the sower of the soil makes clear, we cannot read the human heart. We do not know who is the fertile heart and who is the resistant heart. … We just know there are sinners who need to hear the gospel, and thus we preach the gospel to all persons, knowing that God does save.”
All Christians, Mohler said, are called to spread the gospel.
“Why do we go?” he asked. “We go because we honestly believe that whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. … God always blesses the preaching of the gospel. And he does so because he is not a spectator, but he is the God who saves through the means of the gospel.”
Answering a point posed by Patterson—that if Calvinism is true then a person could be drawn against his will, Mohler said, “I do not believe that such a person exists.
“Rather, I believe the doctrine of effectual calling, that Scripture says once that work is begun, and that person is drawn unto Christ, then that person will come to faith in Christ and will be authentically saved,” he said. “I do not believe in the fictitious person who is drawn to faith in Christ against his will. I do not believe that that is possible.”
Human will, Mohler said, is not “contravened by God.”
“The Lord’s will—as the initiating will—wills the human will to will what the Father sills,” he said. “…When Dr. Patterson shares the gospel and when I share the gospel, we do so honestly and urgently believing that if that person to whom we shared the gospel of Christ responds in faith, she or he will be saved.”
“Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved—I believe that emphatically,” he said.
Order forms for CDs and tapes of the Mohler-Patterson discussion and other breakout sessions during the SBC Pastors’ Conference can be downloaded at www.SBCTapes.com. SBC Tapes can be reached at 817-65 6-1258.