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Conservatives stand together on doctrine of election, Patterson says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Those who hope for internecine warfare among Southern Baptist conservatives over the doctrine of election will be disappointed, SBC President Paige Patterson told a packed crowd at the Alumni Memorial Chapel at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., Sept. 10.
Preaching from Romans 8:29-30, Patterson noted some had misrepresented recent remarks he made on the subject in a chapel address at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to be indicative of a split among SBC conservatives. No such split exists, Patterson contended, as he expounded upon the wide areas of agreement among Southern Baptist inerrantists on the Bible’s teaching of God’s sovereign choice of individuals to salvation.
Patterson, president of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said the two prevailing criticisms lobbed by some in the news media at SBC conservatives are inherently contradictory.
“One group of the press seems to say, ‘People like Patterson, Hemphill, Mohler, these folks, they’re monolithic in their thinking, they never have a thought that is any different the one from the other,” Patterson said. “And then on the other hand, they say: ‘You know, Mohler, he’s a Calvinist and Patterson he’s not and Hemphill he’s not and they’re divided up fighting over this.’
“The truth of the matter is that we do disagree about some things once in a while,” Patterson said. “And that’s how it could be expected among fallen men who never see all that there is to be seen of the greatness of our God, but on the other hand, we do agree about a great deal.”
Patterson announced the purpose of his sermon was to elucidate five areas in which SBC conservatives should agree wholeheartedly regarding the doctrine of election.
First, Patterson said Southern Baptist conservatives must agree the doctrine of election is indeed biblical and salvation is wholly God’s action.
“Any approach to soteriology which omits the Bible doctrine of election is incomplete, inadequate and misleading,” Patterson contended. “Oftentimes to hear evangelists preach and to hear some of our own Southern Baptist preachers preach, you would think that the doctrine of election never appeared on the pages of sacred writ at all, and to fail to take it into thorough consideration is incomplete, inadequate and misleading.”
Secondly, Patterson said any treatment of the doctrine of election must take into account the entire biblical witness without “facile handling” of certain texts. He illustrated this by pointing to “a popular handling of the doctrine of election by the uninformed” who dismiss references in Scripture to “the elect” by explaining away election as a sinner breaking a tie vote between God and the devil.
“Have you ever heard an absurd explanation like that?” Patterson asked. “All you can say is it is not made by someone who takes the Scripture seriously.”
Similarly, Patterson said, Calvinists must not attempt to do exegetical gymnastics with the “whosoever will” passages so they are seen to be “whosoever, of the elect.”
Thirdly, Patterson said any construal of the doctrine which makes one more an evangelist of a doctrinal system “than an evangelist of Jesus and his atonement is seriously at odds with the Scripture.” Patterson elaborated this warning is not only for Calvinists and Arminians, but for those who would overemphasize a particular eschatological or ecclessiological view as a doctrinal hobby horse to the neglect of a stress on the atoning work of Jesus.
Fourthly, Patterson contended any formulation of the doctrine of election which “diminishes in any way, either intentionally or unintentionally, the white-hot passion for, and the aggressive practice of, confrontational evangelism must be jettisoned as unworthy both of the Spirit and the mandate of the New Testament.”
Finally, Patterson argued, Southern Baptist conservatives must agree an acceptance of the doctrine of election must be joined with a spirit of humbleness. Wrestling over the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is appropriate and even necessary for ministers, he said.
“But 2000 years of debate having failed to penetrate the mystery of God in salvation and in his electing providences should instill humility rather than hubris in the interpreter,” he said. “We can no more explain the Trinity than we can explain the acts of God’s sovereignty in election. We must proclaim both because they are clearly presented in Scripture and we are under mandate to say everything the Bible says about them, but we never fully grasp all that is there.”
Recognizing resolving all the paradoxes between God’s sovereignty and human freedom is an ever-elusive goal, Patterson suggested instead of attempting to do so, Southern Baptists ask themselves why God included the doctrine of election in his revealed Word.
Patterson found in Romans 8 four reasons with which he said all Bible-believing evangelicals could agree on why the doctrine of election is disclosed in Scripture. The first is that salvation is exclusively the work of God.
“As long as the doctrine of election is in the Bible, there can be no question that salvation is the act of God from beginning to end, from the Alpha to the Omega, from eternity past to eternity future, and there is not one single solitary contribution that man can make to that,” Patterson proclaimed. “It is from beginning to end the grace of God. It is what God has planned from all eternity and programmed … and we must confirm and affirm what God has said, and that is: Salvation is an act of God and him alone.”
Also, God has revealed these truths because the doctrine of election ensures the redeemed will never lose their salvation after they have come to Christ in faith, Patterson said.
“Can you be saved, slip on a moral banana peel and become lost?” Patterson asked. “Absolutely not! It would be the most hideous sort of thinking in the world that God would ever lose one of his elect, and the doctrine of election confirms to us that once we have been saved we will never be lost.”
Patterson said those who fall into grievous sin will either repent of their backsliding or will be revealed to have never truly experienced the new birth.
The doctrine of election also establishes the providential oversight of God who is working all things together for his purposes and for the ultimate good of his elect, Patterson explained.
“If you are a born-again believer and you are down and depressed and despondent, you are failing to appreciate the doctrine of election, you are failing to grasp the doctrine of God’s providence,” he said.
God has revealed the doctrine to ensure also that believers understand history is not careening out of control but is moving by his sovereign hand toward a certain goal, Patterson concluded.
“I don’t sit up at night wringing my hands wondering how it’s all going to turn out,” Patterson said, referring to current events ranging from the Clinton scandal to developments in China and North Korea and speculations on a Year 2000 computer breakdown. “Leave that to those who don’t know the Lord.
“As long as the doctrine of election is in the Bible, then there is no question about it,” he said. “God is leading the world to the designed climax that he has in mind.
“There are many things about the doctrine of election that we may have disagreements about,” Patterson said. “But I believe we can all agree on this: that whatever the doctrine of election means, we must be doing our best to get the gospel to every man and woman in the world. Then, having done our very best, we will stand before the Savior and with the 24 elders rip the crowns from our heads and cast them at the Savior’s feet. Why? Because we know that it is not what we do, but what he did, that brings about our salvation.”

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  • Russell D. Moore