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Patterson explores evangelism, election during seminary lecture

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–“Salvation is wholly the work of God, forever a matter of His grace,” Paige Patterson said.

Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, delivered the Gurney Lectures on Evangelism at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary March 2-4. The NOBTS alumnus explored the impact of the doctrine of election on Baptist life and evangelism in a sermon series titled, “Salvation and the Sovereignty of God.”

Patterson opened his three-day lecture by explaining the scriptural underpinnings of predestination, found in Romans 8:29-30. Theologians struggle to reconcile how God could predestine some for salvation, thereby excluding others, yet still hold humans responsible for a choice that it does not seem possible for them to make, Patterson said.

Pointing to John 6:65, Patterson explained that a person cannot come to Jesus unless he or she is called by God. The implication of this calling, known theologically as election or predestination, can significantly impair world evangelism efforts if taken to an extreme measure, Patterson said. Patterson said the solution to the problem is not to change the interpretation of Scripture to tie up loose ends of how predestination works; rather, it is to change the question altogether.

“We’ve been asking the ‘what’ question and the ‘how’ question instead of asking the ‘why’ question…. [W]e’ve been trying to somehow get our arms around the mind of God and explain how all of this is compatible when we should have been asking a different question all altogether. Maybe we should have been saying, ‘Lord, why did you put a doctrine like that in the Bible anyway?'”

When this question is asked, Patterson said the answer becomes clear. “As long as the doctrine of election is in God’s holy book, it puts salvation totally in the hands of God and makes it forever a matter of His grace.”

While many Christians give lip service to the concept of salvation as through grace by faith alone, they live in a matter that is contrary, Patterson said; instead, they go about trying to earn salvation through works.

“About 98 percent of the world’s population is unalterably convinced that there is something they can do to make themselves acceptable to a holy God,” Patterson said of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even many Baptists who try to work for their salvation.

The biblical doctrine of election ensures the eternal security of salvation, Patterson said, noting that because God provides a salvation by grace, it cannot be lost.

“If you are saved by grace, you can’t forfeit it by works,” he said. “Once a man is born again, he will never ever forfeit that salvation.”

However, Patterson said that regardless of an individual’s conceptualization of the doctrine of election, whether or not it is God in His divine knowledge who elects, the fact remains that everyone who does not know Christ is dead in sin. This knowledge, combined with fearing God and being compelled by love for Christ, should propel every believer to share the Gospel.

“Take it however you want to take it,” he said. “But unless [your belief regarding the] doctrine of election makes you a fervent soul-winner, there is something wrong with your theology.”

The Gurney Lectures on Evangelism were established by Thomas Gurney, a Baptist layman from Orlando, Fla. Gurney, a lawyer and member of First Baptist Church in Orlando, was a committed witness who boldly shared his faith. He gave an endowment in order to fund a lecture series on evangelism on the NOBTS campus each spring.

In conjunction with the Gurney Lectures, Patterson spoke at the “Evangelism Today” conference hosted by the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health at NOBTS. Area pastors and seminary professors heard Patterson speak at two meetings and had the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session.
The Gurney Lectures on Evangelism may be viewed in full online at www.nobts.edu/chapel under the “Archives” link. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: COMPELLED TO WITNESS.

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  • Katherine Albers