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3 former SBC presidents among 129 endorsing new evangelical statement

CHICAGO (BP)–A new evangelical statement on the doctrine of justification — saving faith in Jesus Christ — includes the signatures of three former Southern Baptist Convention presidents, Adrian Rogers, Charles Stanley and Jim Henry, and the president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Richard Land.
In all, 129 evangelicals, including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Chuck Colson, Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney and theologians J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul, have signed the statement, titled, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration.”
The statement will appear in Christianity Today’s June 14 issue and on the magazine’s Internet site, www.christianity.net.
“Of the making of many statements, there is no end,” acknowledges David Neff, Christianity Today’s executive editor, in an article introducing the new statement.
Neff recounts, however, the thinking of two unnamed theologians: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful, they said, if evangelicals could achieve a broad consensus on the gospel and join in a common statement?”
Neff was among the 15 members of the statement’s “drafting committee,” which also included Timothy George, a Southern Baptist and dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., and John Ankerberg, host of an evangelical TV show and member of a Southern Baptist congregation in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Among other Southern Baptists signing the statement are Paul Pressler, one of the key leaders of the conservative resurgence in the SBC and a retired Texas appellate court judge; David S. Dockery, president of Union University, Jackson, Tenn.; Beth Moore, a popular author and Bible teacher and member of First Baptist Church, Houston; Beverly LaHaye, founder of Concerned Women for America, and her husband, Tim, a popular Christian author; and Tom Nettles, professor of historical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, also has long been identified as a Southern Baptist church member.
Apart from Land, no other SBC agency president was among the statement’s initial signers.
Among other evangelicals signing the statement are Wayne Grudem, president of the Evangelical Theological Society and president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright; World magazine publisher Joel Belz; popular author Max Lucado; Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago; and D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
. Neff, in his article, notes “the need for a reference document for those engaged in interchurch dialog, for theological students, for pastors, for parachurch ministries, for itinerant evangelists, and for the rest of us.”
Timothy George, according to a Religion News Service report, said he hopes the statement affirms Jesus’ prayer “that they all may be one.”
George told RNS, “When evangelicals themselves are so divided, as our rhetoric has sometimes portrayed us to be, that’s a bad witness for the gospel.”
John Ankerberg told RNS, “With our different organizations, schools, parachurch ministries, we have needed a statement on what the central message of the Christian faith is. …This is important, it’s needed and it’s wonderful to see the unity on this message.”
Ankerberg told RNS the statement eventually may become a global affirmation of evangelical belief. “There is a lot of enthusiasm among international evangelicals,” he said.
The statement, which spans six pages in Christianity Today, declares in part in a preamble: “This Gospel is the only Gospel: there is no other; and to change its substance is to pervert and indeed destroy it.”
It notes: “Salvation is a Trinitarian reality, initiated by the Father, implemented by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit. It has a global dimension, for God’s plan is to save believers out of every tribe and tongue (Rev. 5:9) to be his church … .”
Among other declarations in the statement:
— “… all who do not receive Christ will be judged according to their just deserts as measured by God’s holy law, and face eternal retributive punishment.”
— “Christians are commanded to love each other despite differences of race, gender, privilege, and social, political, and economic background (John 13:34-35; Gal. 3:28-29), and to be of one mind wherever possible (John 17:20-21; Phil. 2:2; Rom. 14:1-15:13). We know that divisions among Christians hinder our witness in the world, and we desire greater mutual understanding and truth-speaking in love. We know too that as trustees of God’s revealed truth we cannot embrace any form of doctrinal indifferentism, or relativism, or pluralism by which God’s truth is sacrificed for a false peace.
“Doctrinal disagreements call for debate. Dialogue for mutual understanding and, if possible, narrowing of the differences is valuable, doubly so when the avowed goal is unity in primary things, with liberty in secondary things, and charity in all things.”
— “We deny that anyone is saved in any other way than by Jesus Christ and his Gospel. The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshipers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ.”
— “We deny that anyone who rejects the humanity of Christ, his incarnation, or his sinlessness, or who maintains that these truths are not essential to the Gospel, will be saved (1 John 4:2-3).”
— “We deny the validity of any so-called gospel that denies the historical reality of the bodily resurrection of Christ.”
A public celebration of the document will be held during the international gathering of CBA, formerly the Christian Booksellers Association, in July 2000 in New Orleans, RNS reported.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, who was not among the statement’s signatories, issued comments June 8 on the new document.
“I did not sign the document because I am concerned that evangelicalism is now confused by the existence of several statements purporting to deal with the gospel,” Mohler said, noting, however, various strengths in the new statement.
The confusion “is the direct result, though certainly unintended, of the ECT statements and related public controversy,” Mohler said in a reference to “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statements in 1994 and 1997 involving many of the latest statement’s signers and various Catholic notables. The ECT statements sparked strong controversy in various Southern Baptist and other evangelical quarters.
“I believe that the ECT statements effectively confused the nature of the gospel, even as the organizers sought to unify the church,” Mohler stated.
“I recognize that the drafters of ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ’ intend to clarify as well as to unify,” Mohler said of the latest statement. “Nevertheless, I remain unconvinced that an exchange of such statements is now the best means of clarifying the vital doctrinal issues involved,” he said, acknowledging, “This is a question of personal judgment and a matter of personal conviction.”
Mohler added, “I prefer to stand upon the historic creeds and confessions of the evangelical tradition, and upon the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message statements which frame our convictions as Baptists.”
On the positive side, Mohler said, “This is a timely and powerful document, rightly affirming the nature and character of the gospel as accomplished by God and as revealed in the Scriptures. The strengths of the statement are many, and the prose is often eloquent.”
Among the strengths cited by Mohler: “its clear affirmation of the exclusivity of the gospel and the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Mohler noted, “The fact that signatories and drafters included representatives from both Reformed and Arminian churches indicates a purpose to unite evangelicals behind this ‘celebration’ of the gospel. The statement affirms biblical orthodoxy as understood by evangelicals, and roots these convictions in the patristic consensus as well as the confessions of the Reformation.”
Commenting on plans by the new statement’s organizers to hold a major public event preceded by a year of discussion, Mohler said, “It would have been helpful had the drafters followed the model of the process which produced the ‘Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy’ and held public discussion and debate during the drafting process.”
Other SBC agency presidents were given opportunity to comment on the statement, but none had responded by Baptist Press’ deadline June 8.
The churches led by the three former SBC presidents: Rogers, Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn.; Stanley, First Baptist Church, Atlanta; and Henry, First Baptist, Orlando.
Neff, in his introductory article about the statement, asserts, “Today, classic theological liberalism is no longer the church’s main threat. As we enter a post-Christian world, one driven by consumer culture and the entertainment industry, we face more basic challenges, such as the radical devaluation of human life.”
He also writes, “If some parts of this document sound like a reprise of themes from the sixteenth century, it is because those themes have grown faint for many. This is not merely a biblical study of salvation, but a pastoral reminder of where we have come from, a remembrance of a relevant past.”
Other signers of the statement include publisher Stephen Strang of the charismatic magazine Charisma; theologians John Stott and D.A. Carson; international evangelist Luis Palau; Joni Eareckson Tada; Brandt Gustavson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, and David Clark, chairman of NRB’s executive committee and vice president, broadcast communications, for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board; and African American evangelicals Tony Evans and Kay Coles James.

James A. Smith Sr. contributed to this article.