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Connect 316 meets, honors Jerry Vines

CORRECTION, 4:35 p.m. Monday, June 29: The identification of Leighton Flowers in the 7th paragraph has been corrected.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP) — Celebrating the “traditional Southern Baptist understanding of God’s plan of salvation,” Connect 316 executive director Rick Patrick said the group will “stand in our own stream and gladly fish for the souls of men” during the C316 dinner in Columbus, Ohio.

The gathering drew more than 200 to its meeting in the Greater Columbus Convention Center June 16 during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.

Connect 316 also honored former SBC President Jerry Vines with its inaugural “Jerry Vines Award for the Promotion of the Whosoever Will Doctrine in Southern Baptist Life.”

Connect 316 was organized in 2013, according to its website, to offer “a theologically driven ministry fellowship to promote scholarship and encouragement in the gospel for those of us embracing the [Herschel] Hobbs-[Adrian] Rogers theological tradition.”

Patrick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Ala., in his opening remarks, said C316 has “a genuine respect for the streams of others … We nevertheless celebrate our own theological stream” coming from Anabaptists, General Baptists “to the Separate Baptists in the South in the 1700s and 1800s and to the traditional Southern Baptists of the 1900s, including every primary confessor of the Baptist Faith and Message: E.Y. Mullins in 1925, Herschel Hobbs in 1963 and Adrian Rogers in 2000.”

“Leaving Geneva” was the theme of the evening’s meeting, as three speakers recounted their journey from Calvinism, which proponents call the doctrines of grace.

Leighton Flowers, youth evangelism director for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said he discovered Calvinism in college, reading from modern Calvinists like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul and John Piper. “I fully embraced what is called the ‘Young, Restless and Reformed’ position,” Flowers said.

Reading A.W. Tozer began his exit from Calvinism, Flowers said. “He’s an intellectual,” Flowers said he thought, “and he knows God, obviously, so he has to be a Calvinist, surely.” But some of Tozer’s writings “simply did not fit my paradigm.”

Flowers also assumed C.S. Lewis was a Calvinist before he read his writings. “I could not understand how [these men] could be intelligent, read the Bible, and not be Calvinists,” he recounted.

After extensive study and exchanges with fellow Calvinists, Flowers began to believe that the Calvinist view of total inability, or total depravity, “is not a biblical doctrine.”

The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and is that which enables sinful people to hear God’s appeal to be reconciled and also respond to that appeal, Flowers said. A Southern Baptist preacher’s son, he acknowledged that “close, dear friends” doubt his initial commitments to Calvinism¸ It is “heart-breaking sometimes because of our differences,” he said.

Ronnie Rogers, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Norman, Okla., and author of “Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist,” next addressed the crowd, saying, “I was for about 34 years a Calvinist. … But I kept running into all these problems [having] insufficient answers.”

Among the issues Rogers cited is the Calvinism view of compatibilism, which holds that “determinism and moral responsibility are compatible,” as he put it. But determinism and compatibilism are “no less deterministic than sheer determinism,” he said.

Another issue involved Calvinist definitions of terms like sovereignty, election, foreknowledge and predestination.

“Calvinists believe in predestination of the elect and non-elect. Period,” Rogers said. But when some are asked if “God predestined the lost to hell,” they respond, “Well, I’m not a hyper-Calvinist,” Rogers said. “But that doesn’t answer the question.” Calvinism teaches that God structured a plan that prevents the non-elect from going to heaven, he said.

Some Calvinists, Rogers said, violate basic hermeneutical principles by using “theological imports” and “a complex hermeneutic” that obscure the clear and simple meaning of such biblical texts as John 3:16.

What Calvinists cannot adequately explain is attributed to “mystery,” Rogers said, noting that many “mysteries” are “Calvinistically generated.” The mysteries disappear, however, when considered outside of the Calvinist system, he said.

Doug Sayers of Cincinnati, a speaker with the Gideons, said his journey from Calvinism began when a friend told him that Sayers’ hospitalized and semi-comatose toddler son might go to hell if he died.

“I guess you could say that one of the most disquieting realities of Calvinism reared up and kicked us right in the face,” Sayers said, noting that his friend was a Calvinist who had the “honesty and courage to actually apply the five points to a real-life situation.”

Sayers subsequently wrote a book titled “Chosen or Not? A Layman’s Study of Biblical Election and Assurance.”

Sayers noted that some “baptistic Calvinists have taught that every dying infant should be presumed elect and will be saved.” But their hearts and creeds are in “undeniable conflict,” he said. “Their defense of that hope is more emotional than biblical and bears witness to the common grace sense of justice that God puts within each one of us.”

Embarrassed over reading into the biblical text what he thought it should say, “the kind of eisegesis that I had been accusing non-Calvinists of for years,” Sayers concluded, “I can tell you tonight that I am more at peace with the entire Bible than I ever was as a Calvinist.”

Connect 3:16 presented to Jerry Vines its inaugural “Jerry Vines Award for the Promotion of the Whosoever Will Doctrine in Southern Baptist Life.”

Vines, in receiving the award named in his honor, ascended the platform amid a standing ovation. He said he’d never heard of anyone “winning his own award.”

After quoting John 3:16, 1 John 2:2 and 2 Peter 3:9, Vines, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., concluded in prayer, thanking God for “wonderful news of Jesus Christ, which is available to every single person.”

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  • Norm Miller