The Right Basis for Building Bridges

In his sermon at the Building Bridges Conference last month, Rev. J.D. Greear addressed the right basis for cooperation between Baptist churches, saying:

…but if you’re a ‘five-pointer’ or you’re not, when you understand that it is the preaching of the gospel– that it is not market trends, not flashy packages, and not loading up people’s minds with medieval names that change people, but that depth comes from understanding the radical love of the substitutionary nature of God and the gospel– that brings change, and that is something around which we can identify.

With this and other statements, Rev. Greear basically called for a God-centered preaching of the gospel message to be the focus of Baptist ‘bridge-building’ activity. But the question must be asked, “What do you mean by the ‘gospel message’?” Mormons preach one message that they call the gospel, Jehovah’s Witnesses preach another that they call the gospel. What is the gospel message around which Baptists can rally in order to cooperate despite other differences?

At the Building Bridges Conference Dr. Malcolm Yarnell summarized the gospel message as follows:

…the Second Person of the eternal Trinity became flesh in order to reveal Himself to us, died on a cross in order to atone for the sins of the whole world, and rose again from the dead so that those who hear, believe, and confess might have eternal life. As the Word is proclaimed, faith in God and repentance from sin are brought near to the hearts and mouths of men, women, and children by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. If you will but believe in Jesus Christ and confess that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Such salvation results in disciples, who publicly profess Jesus as Lord through baptism in a local church, regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper therein, personally submit to her teaching and redemptive discipline, and preach the gospel to all nations.

Now, before this gospel message is preached, we must certainly speak about fundamental issues of who God is and what sin is, and we also must more fully explain different concepts from the summary above based on the understanding of our particular audience. But overall I think Dr. Yarnell’s summary is excellent, as it is focused on who Christ is and what He has done, and it also clearly states the biblical response to this message.

When we speak of joining together with different Baptist groups in order to proclaim the gospel and plant gospel-focused churches, my Reformed Baptist friends can become uneasy. The question arises: “How can we join together to preach the gospel of grace with Baptists who do not even believe the Doctrines of Grace?” Dr. Yarnell answered this question as well, during the first part of the panel discussion:

I think you’ll find that for most non-Calvinist Southern Baptists, they do preach grace as they preach the text. You cannot avoid grace– God’s love towards us expressed in salvation for us– you can’t avoid that when you preach the text, it’s all through it. But non-Calvinists do not systematize or codify their understandings of grace into the so-called Doctrines of Grace.

I believe that this is a helpful distinction Dr. Yarnell makes- the distinction between preaching grace and preaching the Doctrines of Grace. For Baptists who are genuinely committed to expository preaching, the message of salvation by God’s sovereign grace is unavoidable. What many Baptists fail to do, however, is to compare Scripture with Scripture and to take a whole-Bible understanding of grace- in other words, many Baptists have an exegetical theology of grace (an understanding of grace from this or that particular text), but they do not have a systematic theology of grace. Now, we at SBF would disagree with Dr. Yarnell on the legitimacy of the Doctrines of Grace as an appropriate systematic theology of grace (notice Dr. Yarnell’s interjection of “so-called” before he says “Doctrines of Grace”), but we would be in complete agreement with him concerning the absolute necessity of God’s grace in salvation.

It is my hope that, while not ignoring differences in our understanding of systematic theology, Baptists would be able to place an appropriate priority upon the good news of God’s grace as manifest in Jesus Christ and that we would be willing to build bridges in order to proclaim the gospel to the whole world.

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15 Comments on “The Right Basis for Building Bridges”

  1. If you are not preaching the sovereignty of God and the inability of man are you really preaching grace? If you are not preaching the effectual call of God and a heart hardened by sin are you really preaching grace? If you are not preaching the tender mercy of God and the complete unworthiness of man are you really preaching grace?

    Your theology is either man-centered or God-centered, and, as such, your soteriology will be either man-centered or God centered, and therefore the gospel you preach will either be man-centered or God-centered. It can not be both. If your theology is man-centered then the gospel you are preaching can not be one of grace. A man-centered gospel robs God of the honor due him through the salvation of man because it puts God at the mercy of the decision of man.

    If someone who holds to a Reformed soterilogy and someone who is Arminian both preach the text in Ephesians 1:1-11 or 2:1-10, where do you think the emphasis will be for both, even though both preach the same text?

    Grace only flows one way, from God to man. The minute the emphasis is taken off of God it is no longer a gospel of grace, but a gospel of man’s ability.

  2. Re: “Your theology is either man-centered or God-centered,”

    But I do not think that a preacher must use the term “effectual call” (a term not found in the Bible) in order to preach the gospel.

    Is it your position that only Calvinists preach the gospel? Whitefield did not think so, as seen in his statements concerning Wesley. Spurgeon did not think so, as seen in his defense of D.L. Moody. Al Mohler does not think so, as seen in his hiring of Dr. Russell Moore as the dean of the School of Theology here at Southern Seminary,

    My assertion is not that we should abandon our commitment to the Doctrines of Grace, nor that we should cease seeking to persuade others of the biblical basis for these doctrines; I simply believe- as does Tom Ascol and others- that partnership is possible (and often desirable) between Baptists that are Calvinistic and Baptists that have not yet been persuaded of the Calvinist position.

  3. Matt Svoboda Says:

    We have too much time on our hands, here in America. We have this conversation every week, along with a lot of other conversations like it. These issues are important, but the fact is that if we were under any type of persecution we would not be having this conversation, and many like it, time and time again. We would be much more focused on coming together to encourage one another and help those in need, if we had any persecution and hardships. I am tired of bickering over these important, yet minute differences between baptists and other denominations. The point is, if we didn’t have this much time on our hands we wouldn’t be making such a big deal out of these things…. Maybe we need some persecution to remind us what is truly important and what we can let slide…

    We can definitely let the difference between 4 and 5 point Calvinists slide… And I would definitely say ,if our families were under persecution, we would let the differences between how Calvinists and Armenians define the gospel slide…

  4. Moody happens to be one of my favorites and if you will examine his sermons he preached pretty much what I outlined above, as did Wesley. The urgings of Whitfield to believe on Christ don’t differ much from the urgings of Moody or Wesley. I don’t believe that only Calvinists preach the gospel, but my point is that much of what is called gospel preaching is not gospel preaching, and if the “gospel” that is preached is man-centered then it is not a gospel of grace.

    The harmony between those who are non-Calvinist and those who are Calvinist is another issue. Should there be harmony? Absolutely! Will there be harmony? Probably not. Why? Most of those in the non-Calvinist, camp, seemingly, are not interested in it. It takes two to conciliate (look at Israel and Palestine). The initiative and push for conciliation seems to be coming from the Calvinist side. It is one thing to issue a conciliatory statement, as Frank Page has, but quite another to pursue conciliation (we see this principle in I John 3:18). And if concilation is not pursued, is it really desired? If it is not desired by both parties, then true conciliation will not happen, and what you will have, at best, is an uneasy truce.

  5. Barry Says:

    You should be thankful, Matt, that it is no longer the 16th and 17th centuries.

    To have the ability to speak your mind and not be put to death for it is a plus.

    I would say that if you’re unhappy with the give and take found in this blog that you might just consider signing up and going over seas. You really stand a better chance of being persecuted in Iraq than you do here.

    I’m presuming, of course, that you’re still young enough for the military to want you (I think it’s actually under fifty now).

    If you really want to feel some heat, that’s my recomendation.

  6. Matt,

    I have made 12 trips to the Ukraine and talked with many Baptists and Pentecostals, who made up the bulk of the believing community during communist rule, and I have seen those, and talked to those, who have been persecuted in both denominations. Guess what, for the most part neither will have anything to do with the other both during the persecution and since. The Baptists think all the Pentecostals are going to hell, and the Pentecostals think the Baptists are second class Christians.

    Unfortunately, theological differences divide, even small ones. The real issue is which theological hills are worth dying on and when.

  7. Darrin Says:

    I have greatly appreciated this blog since I found it earlier this year. There is a wealth of helpful information and insight here. These very issues have recently impacted me, and this very question in this post – To what extent can we expect unity with those who reject the 5 points – has been on my mind of late.

    I am coming closer to feeling like Morris, in that faith without these doctrines is dangerously man-centered. And the more I dwell on these doctrines, the more appalling that which is commonly taught and believed in our churches becomes to me. For if man’s “right decision of his free will” leads us to salvation, then, I would say as in Romans 11:5-7, “grace is no more grace”. But I hope to keep growing and impressing others with these truths, and I thank the moderators and others here for this resource.

    Matt – These truths are extremely important, and therefore hardly “minute”, whether in peace or persecution. In fact, how I would need confidence in God’s sovereignty and providence to strengthen me in such times! And don’t forget, brother – many have been persecuted just FOR clinging to these very doctrines.

  8. Barry Says:

    It’s worth bearing in mind that people came to this country during the seventeeth century precisely to get away from religious zealots who preferred persecution to tolerance when dealing with people.

    It’s another popular fallacy that those who founded this country were strict Christian religious adherants. They weren’t. A notible band were, at best, luke warm to religion.

    Our founding fathers specifically wanted a separation between church and state to avoid problems they had seen in Europe.

  9. Robert Says:

    I know this is slightly OT but how do you know that it’s a fallacy that our forefathers were “lukewarm” to religion?

    I’m just asking you to site sources is all.


  10. Barry Says:


    There exists ample documentation from letters and official papers as well as notes and correspondence that nearly all of the big hitters of the day (Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Paine, Allen and Madison) were cognizant of the abuses that Christianity was responsible for (most closely, for them, the Puritan Christian movement in Europe and in New England) and in framing the Consitution they were careful not to include any mention of God, or Jesus or a Supreme being. If you go through the myriad of works available (McCullough’s work on Adams as an example) or Jefferson’s “Notes on Virginia” and many others you’ll get a clear picture that they had every desire to separate Church and State.

    As an example I’ll give you some interesting quotes of these intellectuals and preface by offering one by a fellow who lived earlier in Europe:

    “Reason should be destroyed in all Christians” – Martin Luther

    In a letter from Adams to Jefferson – “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved–The Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced.”

    From Madison: “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble purpose.”

    There are a number of Franklin quotes that you may view for yourself which speak to the prevailing view toward Christianity by him.

    In my opinion, what makes these founding fathers and framers of the Constitution so great is that they set up a groundwork wherein people where free and protected in their belief or their un-belief according to their own conscience.

    The more I read about these guys the greater appreciation I have for their skills.

  11. The conversation has gotten clearly off topic.
    Guys: Bring it back on topic or have further comments deleted and the comment thread closed down.

  12. Barry Says:

    This is off topic Andrew, forgive me.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  13. J.Clark Says:

    Franklin wouldn’t waste his time with religion while he had the bottoms of French maids to pinch! On a more serious note, Franklin was the one who encouraged Congress to start praying again in 1787 because he feared they had forgotten, “that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?”

    Remember it is the Spirit who unites men together for God’s glory and not doctrines or creeds.

  14. Jeff Spry Says:

    Dr. Yarnell actually posted a comment at my blog on the publication of the “Building Bridges” papers. He took offense at my recollection of his presentation:

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