In the weeks preceding this year’s John 3.16 Conference (see ad to right), SBCToday will post interviews with each person scheduled to speak at the Conference. The following interview is with Dr. David L. Allen, who is Professor of Preaching, George W. Truett Chair of Ministry, Director of the Southwestern Center for Expository Preaching, and Dean of the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Allen is co-author of Whosoever Will: a Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism.
1. How has the invitation to speak at the conference impacted you?
I was delighted to be invited to speak by Dr. Vines since I am currently immersed in a writing project on an aspect of Calvinism. Any opportunity afforded me that aids my understanding of these important issues and that drives me to further study of the Word can only be beneficial.
2. How important is this conference in light of the current climate within the SBC?
I consider it to be very important. I constantly receive calls and emails from students, pastors and laypeople about the subject of Calvinism, often within the context of their local church. The issues that will be addressed at this conference will scratch where many of our people currently itch.
When it comes to Calvinism in the SBC, a fair amount of misinformation, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation characterizes the current climate. This makes it difficult for most to cut through the discrepant fog.
SBCToday was gracious to publish a post I wrote last July 4 on a suggested way forward for Southern Baptists in this discussion entitled “The Current SBC Calvinism Debate: Observations, Clarifications, and Suggestions.” I noted how there is often much confusion about certain aspects of Calvinism; how it is important to approach this discussion with the right attitude; and how vital it is not to misrepresent what people believe. I also noted how one must make a distinction between a particular doctrine or theological position and the entailments of that doctrine/position. It is the difference in logic between saying “A is B” and saying “A implies B.” Sometimes we are unclear in our discussions and false conclusions are drawn because we fail to make this crucial distinction.
In reading over the comments of the previous interviews with conference speakers, I have observed some comments which indicate to me a failure to distinguish between what one believes and what another thinks is entailed by that belief.
We all must strive to speak clearly and with the proper nuance in discussing these issues.
3. How important is your assigned topic — “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?” — to the total content of the Conf.?
My topic addresses a fundamental belief for many, though certainly not all, in the Reformed tradition. This issue is often misunderstood. Most aspects of Reformed soteriology are intricately related. What one believes about this topic impacts how one approaches the other topics which will be discussed at the conference.
4. Regarding your assigned topic, what do you hope your paper will accomplish?
1) Biblical Analysis. The ultimate issue is what does the Bible teach on this subject.
2) Historical Awareness. People might be surprised what was actually believed about this subject among past and present Reformed writers.
3) Fair Representation. It is incumbent on all who engage in this discussion to represent other positions fairly. That does not mean there will be agreement; but we all should strive for fairness.
4) Clarity. Sloppy thinking and speaking on both sides of the aisle sometimes blurs this specific issue.
5. Tell us about your breakout session?
I will cover in summary fashion the historical, exegetical, theological and practical aspects of limited atonement vs. unlimited atonement, pointing out why I believe limited atonement is unbiblical and negatively impacts preaching, evangelism, and missions. I plan to allow significant time for Q&A as well.
6. How important is your assigned topic within the broader SBC conversation regarding Calvinism?
I think it is one of the major areas of disagreement among those Calvinists who affirm regeneration precedes faith and those Calvinists and non-Calvinists who don’t. Many presume that all Calvinists believe regeneration precedes faith. This is an erroneous assumption. Calvinism is not a monolithic system.
7. What result(s) do you hope to see from the Conf.?
I would hope that the conference can provide Southern Baptists and others interested in this subject an opportunity to reflect on their beliefs like the Bereans of Acts 17:11 who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” I would hope that people can come away with a greater understanding of what the differing positions are and what they entail. I would hope that this conference will generate a greater love and appreciation for brothers and sisters who disagree on these issues. Finally, I would hope to see greater unity as we work together to fulfill the Great Commission.