Observations from the Pastors' Conference in Greensboro

Back in February I predicted that this year’s SBC would draw more younger messengers than in recent history. If today’s pastors’s conference participation is any indication, that is certainly true. In the two break-out sessions that I attended this morning the average age of those attending seemed considerably younger than the average age of those who typically attend the annual SBC meeting.

Drs. Mohler and Patterson did a very fine job in their seminar on differing views of election. Dr. Mohler had to show up in dark sun glasses due to his eye surgery yesterday. His presence at this important and historic event was heroic. Both men were extremely gracious (to no one’s surprise) and both spoke persuasively for their views while being respectful of each other’s differing views.

Dr. Patterson gave several things that he appreciates about most Calvinists, then several concerns he has about some Calvinists. Then he gave several reasons that he is not a Dortian Calvinist.

Dr. Mohler identified himself as a 5-point Calvinist while making it clear that identifying with Calvinism as a system is not a great concern of his. He also issued some cautions that Calvinists should take to heart.

The specifics of their comments will have to wait, since I did not take many notes and I do not have access to the audio files. Once I get them, if no one else has given the substance of their comments, I will. I will offer some perspectives at that time, as well.

I can say that I was very encouraged by how the session went. Dr. Patterson warned his non-Calvinist friends not to make the charge that Calvinism is inherently anti-evangelism and anti-missions. That was a helpful comment based on an accurate theological assessment. Dr. Mohler warned Calvinists not to be more concerned with debating Calvinism than evangelizing. That also was a helpful comment and should be taken to heart by every lover of God’s Word.

You will want to purchase a copy of this CD. I said that this was a historic event. It was wonderful to see Southern Baptists discussing substantive theological issues–and doing it with a packed crowd…twice! Over 2600 people attended each of the 2 presentations of this session.

It should also be noted–as Dr. Mohler pointed out–that this kind of discussion could not have happened without the conservative resurgence of the last 27 years. As those who have endured much and fought some long, hard battles over the authority of Scripture, Southern Baptists are in a position to discuss the specific teachings of the Scripture.

The same can be said for the session on church discipline, led by Mark Dever and Art Wilder. Mark did most of the talking in the presentation time, while Art made some helpful observations of how discipline is practiced at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Over 600 people packed the room both times this seminar was given. Mark addressed 5 questions about discipline, quoting the first writing Southern Baptist theologian, John Dagg who wrote, “When discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”

It was tremendously encouraging to see the response to this presentation. Men were genuinely interested in the idea of a recovery of church discipline. I dare say that when Mark read Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5 that it probably was the first time those inerrant texts have been read publicly at a SBC pastors’ conference.

Not everything that was said today at the conference was as encouraging as what I have described above, but truth loving Southern Baptists have reasons to be very encouraged by what did transpire in these two sessions. Bryant Wright, the President of the Pastors’ Conference and Pastor of Johnson’s Ferry Baptist Church, is to be commended for putting these kinds of presentations into the schedule.

Tomorrow morning is the Founders Breakfast. Mark Dever, DV, will speak to a sold out crowd on Election, the Gospel and Evangelism. Pray that the Lord will be honored as we meet.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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