Category Archives: Symposium

2015 Symposium Program

Monday Evening

6:00 – 6:15       Welcome and Prayer

6:15 – 7:15        Thomas Marberry – Discipleship in Galilee and Perea

7:15 – 7:45        Refreshments and Discussion

7:45 – 8:45       Daniel Webster – Worship in the Spirit and the Truth: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John

 

Tuesday Morning

9:00 – 9:10       Welcome and Prayer

9:10 – 10:10       Kevin Hester – Trinitarian Preaching: On the Father, In the Son, and Through the Holy Spirit

10:10 – 10:40     Refreshments and Discussion

10:40 – 11:40     Jackson Watts – Singleness as Discipleship

11:40 – 1:30       Lunch at Area Restaurants

 

Tuesday Afternoon

1:30 – 2:30        Matthew Bracey – Discipleship in a Changing Legal Landscape

2:30 – 3:00       Refreshments and Discussion

3:00 – 4:00       Gregory Hollifield – Pericope by Pericope: Transforming Disciples into Christ’s Likeness through the Theological Interpretation of Scripture

4:00 – 6:30       Dinner at Area Restaurants

 

Tuesday Evening

6:30 – 7:30       Matt Pinson – The Legacy of the Seventeenth-Century General Baptists

7:30 – 7:45       Refreshments and Discussion

7:45 – 8:45       Robert Picirilli – Toward a Theology of Divine Providence

 

The Necessity of Thinking Hard: Part 1

by Rodney Holloman

Recently, after attending my first Theological Symposium outside of graduate school, a friend asked me why I chose to go and participate. I simply replied that as a member of our Commission for Theological Integrity, I needed to be there. The Symposium was academically challenging and the exchange of ideas with others was quite enjoyable. After some back and forth, he then prodded further in simple candor with, “Why did you waste your time?” His questions were not mean spirited or intended to be derogatory. They simply revealed a prevalent thought among some (or many?) preachers and full-time Christian workers: “Why go to the bother of doing all that hard work that doesn’t have an immediate payoff?”

A few weeks later, I was having lunch with a dear missionary who was updating me on the work in his area. After asking about some of the other pastors in his area that I knew, he sadly replied that he was unsure how committed to biblical orthodoxy they were now. He stated that a current “trendy” author’s books were being translated into their language and that the books were wreaking doctrinal havoc among the younger ministers.

As I parsed these events and the well-intentioned question of my brother, my mind thought back to a decade of training young men and women for the ministry. This decade included teaching two semesters of Systematic Theology every year that (among other things) emphasized the importance of “thinking hard” about important subjects. Part of the passion of my life and ministry has been to equip others and inspire them to want to equip others as well. I wondered if we really should encourage critical thinking displayed through accurate writing or only ask for rote memorization of basic facts. Is the challenge of engagement and hard scholastic work only for a bygone era of the church?

So, my question remains, is there really a necessity of doing the hard work of reading, analyzing, critiquing, interacting, and writing regarding subjects with little “commercial” value that will only appeal to a few who make the time to engage? Emphatically, yes! I offer the following foundations for your consideration.

Biblical

There are biblical reasons to stretch, grow, read, and study not only those with whom we agree, but also those with whom we disagree. 2 Timothy 2:15 entreats us to study and reminds us of the negative implication “so that we won’t be ashamed.” Later in 4:13, Paul requests the “books and the parchments.” Addressing the learned crowd on Mars Hill, he quoted one of their poets, demonstrating at the very least, his outside reading. Repeatedly he warned of the Judaizers, showing at least some familiarity with their false doctrine. The beloved apostle would go to great lengths to strengthen the church’s resolve against Gnosticism in all its forms in John’s first epistle.

Again, Paul writing to Titus in chapter 1:9-16 commands him to hold fast the faithful word in order to exhort and to convince the ἀντιλέγοντας, or literally the “anti-speakers.” These contradictors must be answered, but they cannot be answered if we are not engaged with what they are speaking. We cannot answer if we are not studying. Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15 that we are to be “ready to give every man an answer of the hope that lies within us.” The Bible commissions us to study, to reason, to do the hard work of polemics and apologetics.

Historical

One American seminary famously advertises that if you attend their school, you won’t major in “Old Dead German Apostates.” I love the snap of that ad and appreciate its intent. To wit, many may think that examining the ideas and writings of the past has no value in the present or that they serve no purpose in a local context. Truly, this thinking frightens me the most.

Over and over again, we see that when the church and its scholar pastors did not boldly confront error or choose to lead in its proclamation of truth, there were devastating consequences. J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism published almost 100 years ago set forth in shocking detail our current situation and need:

 The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility.” Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight [1].

Historically, we are always learning from the past, always beholden to the future. We cannot drop the baton of furious learning, critical interaction, and academic scholarship. We are to study, think, and write not only because of the lessons of the past, but because the future generations depend upon it.

____________________

[1] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 1–2. (Emphasis Mine)

The Hermeneutics of Evangelism: Some Additional Reflections

by W. Jackson Watts

At the recent Free Will Baptist Theological Symposium in October, I presented a paper entitled “Hearing the Gospel: Reflections on the Hermeneutics of Evangelism.” Drawing on the nuanced way we understand the idea of “hearing” (listening and obeying), I attempted to sketch out some of the ways in which human sinfulness shapes the way people hear our presentations of the Gospel. Specifically I argued,

“As discouraging as the experience of seeing people reject the Gospel can be, it may be equally unhelpful to ascribe these failures in communication to one single cause rather than a plurality of factors which shape the response of listeners….Instead of opting for simplistic reasons for failures to receive the Gospel, contemporary Christians should adopt a more biblical, multi-dimensional approach. Because the Bible demonstrates human sinfulness as a complex, multi-dimensional reality, evangelists—that is,faithful disciples—should expect to encounter varied obstacles to the reception of the Gospel. Yet they should still strive faithfully to evangelize in light of these challenges. Such an approach is true to the biblical witness and contemporary experience. Furthermore, it highlights the profoundly theological nature of evangelism.”

My paper goes on to highlight and describe some cultural features or lenses of human life, namely language, power, and personal peace, and how the Gospel is often heard (or misheard) through them. Hopefully by attending to the ways each of these function, we can unleash the Gospel’s full power in order to break through some of these barriers as the message of Christ calls all people, in all sorts of sin-stained cultural contexts, to repent and believe.

As any presenter does I suppose, I recognize certain limitations or ways in which my argument could be strengthened, expanded, or even clarified. I was thankful for the thoughtful and appreciative responses that followed my presentation. But if I revised my paper, there is a matter or two that I would expand upon or include some comment on. Here I’d like to add one additional thread to this important topic.

An Important Consideration

Much of my writing consists of an attempt to help the church strengthen its ways of thinking and living out Christian doctrine in the world. This theme in my writing appeared at the 2012 Symposium when I presented a paper on the relationship between doctrine and practice. Since then, I find myself increasingly preoccupied by this subject. Being a pastor and theology student brings me back to this again and again.

In some instances, I think the most noticeable, practical impact of this preoccupation is that I am writing on topics that essentially try to strengthen theologically the ways we’re thinking about a familiar topic. In the case of this year’s Symposium, it was the topic of evangelism. My concern was that without giving sufficient attention to the multi-dimensional nature of human sinfulness, we might under-appreciate why people sometimes reject the Gospel. While it’s certainly true that God blesses many of our evangelistic efforts even when we know little-to-nothing about some of the people we share with, sometimes our lack of familiarity with them, as well as our own cultural context, hinders us from growing more competent with the way we channel the full scope of the Gospel at them wherever we encounter people.

The one fear that I had in presenting this paper was not that people would deny the validity of the argument itself. Rather, I feared that they might not appreciate the weight of it, and thus think that while my paper offered some helpful reflections, it only made more complex a task which should be rather simple: sharing the Gospel. In the end, however, not a single comment or response so far has offered that critique. Still, I think it’s worth saying that it is possible to read my paper and notice a void concerning the work of the Holy Spirit. After all, if the Spirit is drawing, convicting, and even at work in the life of the evangelist prior to the evangelistic moment, then it might be easy to dismiss the value of us learning more about how people “hear the Gospel.” “We just need to preach the message,” some will say, “and either they’ll obey the Spirit’s leadership or they’ll reject Him.” I think a few comments are needed to address how the Holy Spirit’s work relates to my presentation.

First, I begin my reflection on the practice of evangelism with the deeply-held belief that without the Holy Spirit, no human being will be saved. This is a point at which Arminians and Calvinists agree, though they construe the nature of the Spirit’s work a bit differently. But I believe that it should be easy for Christians in different traditions to agree on this point because there is so much clear, Scriptural testimony to support it. The Spirit must first draw a man for Him to be saved.

Second, the Holy Spirit’s power to apply the preached Word is such that it doesn’t require the evangelist to possess years of education about sophisticated concepts like hamartiology (the doctrine of sin), Constantinianism, culture, or, Lord-help-us, “plausibility structures” (thank you Peter Berger). Yet we agree that the Holy Spirit, according to God’s good pleasure, works through human agents to communicate the Word using partly our own words, personalities, and backgrounds (including our education).

So while we must make every effort to not make evangelism too complex so as to discourage Christians from evangelizing (or confusing our hearers!), this concern for clarity actually support my basic argument. I think many people may not hear our Gospel presentations clearly because we’ve assumed that a one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be up for revision, even when we’re finding people walk away from us without having trusted Christ. Rejection of the Gospel doesn’t leave us culpable for people’s rejection; it should leave us reflective about what just happened, praying that God will teach us through every victory and every failure–even if they’re only perceived victories or failures.

Finally, a robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit is essential for understanding the multi-dimensional nature of human sinfulness, which is what causes us to try different ways of presenting the Gospel. Sometimes God wants to reach persons in ways that differ from our expectations! The God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit delights in doing things that unsettle both unbelievers and believers. He receives more glory this way, just as the stable was more glorious than any Hilton, or the cross more than any throne. I believe this shapes our evangelism because the Holy Spirit, whose power we desperately need, has a way of confronting people’s unique culturally-conditioned rebellion against God. And this doesn’t disqualify our usage of words, categories, and ways of presenting the Gospel unique to that situation. Rather, it can be a Spiritually-directed act which is happening.

In the panel discussion that concluded the Symposium, Clint Morgan highlighted the work of the Holy Spirit in evangelism. I definitely appreciated that as I personally don’t know as much as I’d like to about how He does what He does in our lives. But I recall Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3:8).

Symposium Notes

by the Theological Commission

Last Tuesday the Commission for Theological Integrity shared some initial reports from our successful 2014 Symposium. Presentations were well-received, the evangelistic zeal of attendees was encouraged, and a lively panel discussion were part of this year’s program. This week we follow with two exciting announcements. You can listen to the panel discussion here .

First, we are pleased to now make the 2014 collection of presentations available in digital format, available for download at the discounted rate of $10. For those wanting a sample of what they missed by not attending this year’s event, readers may download and listen to the panel discussion featuring Mark Coppenger, Clint Morgan, Rodney Holloman, and Barry Raper.

Second, the Commission is also excited about their 2015 events, which will include their annual Theological Trends seminar at the National Convention in Grand Rapids. The title of the seminar will be “Discipleship in Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective.” More information will be provided soon concerning this important event, including the guest speakers.

Our other event that we want to inform readers about is our 2015 Symposium, which will be held on the campus of Hillsdale FWB College in Moore, Oklahoma. The 2015 theme will be “The Theology of Discipleship.” As readers can see, the theme connects both of our main events next year, and we hope that in turn they will complement each another. Just as evangelism is critical to the church’s ministry, so is discipleship. Because discipleship is charged with theological significance, we felt that this should be given the same level of attention that evangelism is.

We invite your questions and paper submissions for next year’s event. Papers can begin being submitted as of March 1 to fwbtheology@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Panel Discussion Mp3

2014 Theological Symposium

This past Monday and Tuesday, over 130 students, professors, church leaders, and laymen converged on the Thigpen Theater of Welch College for the 2014 Free Will Baptist Theological Symposium. In gathering for this event, the attendees were giving attention to a range of scholarly papers, but especially ones related to the Symposium theme: “Evangelism in the Post-Christian West.” This year’s program included the following presentations:

  • Aaron Baldridge (GA): “A Renewed Ministry Model for New Priests: Implications of the Priesthood of Believers for the Ministry of Evangelism”
  • Jeff Cockrell (NC): “Provoking to Jealously: Paul’s Missionary Strategy”
  • Charles Cook (TN): “Twentieth-Century Evangelism: Exploring the Legacies of Lesslie Newbigin and Billy Graham”
  • Mark Coppenger (TN): “Evangelism in a Post-Christian World: Ten Lessons I Think I’ve Learned”
  • Greg Hollifield (TN): “Danger Ahead: Preaching and Teaching the Warning Passages of Hebrews, or, When the Plain Meaning of the Texts Contradicts Your Own Personal Theology”
  • Eddie Moody (NC): “Preparing Congregants to Survive, Thrive in, and Influence a Post-Christian Culture”
  • Phillip Morgan (TN): “Let them be hereticks, Turcks, Jewes, or what soever”: Thomas Helwys’s Seminal Argument for Universal Religious Freedom in England”
  • Jackson Watts (MO): “Hearing the Gospel: Reflections on the Hermeneutics of Evangelism”

These presentations were followed by a panel discussion on the conference theme, featuring panelists Dr. Mark Coppenger of Southern Seminary, International Missions Director Clint Morgan, Commission member and pastor Rodney Holloman, and Dr. Barry Raper of Welch College and pastor of Bethel Free Will Baptist Church. The panel discussion was moderated by Jackson Watts of the Theological Commission.

The audience listened intently to Dr. Coppenger's enthusiastic presentation.
The audience listened intently to Dr. Coppenger’s enthusiastic presentation.

Further Symposium content will be made available in the coming days, including conference papers. Presently the bound edition can be purchased by mail for the price of $25. All purchase requests can be made by emailing fwbtheology@gmail.com, or by making checks out to “Commission for Theological Integrity,” and mailing them to the attention of Matt Pinson at 3606 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN, 37205. Next year’s Symposium will be held on the campus of Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College in Moore, Oklahoma, on October 26-27. The Symposium theme will be announced soon.