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. Emir Caner, president of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga. Dr. Caner remains in demand across the SBC as conference leader/speaker and preacher. The author of numerous books, Dr. Caner also travels internationally for academic purposes and for the sake of the Gospel. To learn more about Dr. Caner, go to www.emircaner.com.
1. How has the invitation to speak at the Conference impacted you?
As some know, my passion is the history of the Baptist and Free Church movements, a subject I have taught at three different SBC institutions over the course of 15 years; and, as such, I am thrilled to contribute to the ongoing conversation regarding our rich heritage.
Like Paul imploring the church in Corinth to "acknowledge such men" for they "refreshed my spirit and yours" (1 Cor. 16.18), so must we do likewise because we stand on the shoulders of giants, men and women who have invested their lives into sharing the Gospel, and it is imperative that we gain a deep appreciation of our forefathers.
2. How important is this conference in light of the current climate within the SBC, and what result(s) do you hope to see from the Conference?
Some believe that our past must dictate our future -- that who we were in the past must be reestablished now. Looking into our past, however, will not demonstrate a monolithic theology, but a group of ordinary men and women who, while disagreeing on finer points of soteriology, rallied around the Gospel and its proclamation as it was simply stated in Scripture. These same men and women wrestled with their own theology as they matured in the faith and listened to a variety of voices around them. There is much to learn from these figures, including the fact that Baptists are simple biblicists who cannot be pigeonholed into one stream of thought. Additionally, these same leaders held certain doctrines, such as eternal security, dogmatically and believed such crucial doctrines were non-negotiable to the life and health of the Convention.
3. How important is your assigned topic -- “What Were Early SBC Leaders Views on Salvation?” -- to the total content of the Conference?
We Americans have a tendency to disregard history, considering it a cure for insomnia and irrelevant to contemporary discussions. But history allows us to see theologies fleshed out in front of our own eyes and to learn from historic experiences. While we are in the midst of speaking about the elephant in the room, it may be encouraging to many to know that these same conversations have echoed through the corridors of Southern Baptist history since its inception.
4. Regarding your assigned topic, what do you hope your paper will accomplish?
The foundation upon which the Southern Baptist Convention was laid will give keen insight as to how and why God smiled upon the endeavors of we ordinary people. My hope is simple: that I in some small way contribute to a clearer view of our past so that we may have a clearer view of the future. While we need not necessarily follow the traditions of men – especially we who hold to sola scripturae – we must also appreciate our heritage as much as it follows Scripture. Certainly we can follow such men in the same way that believers followed Paul as Paul followed Christ. Such heroes seem to be waning in today's amnesic world.
5. How important is your assigned topic within the broader SBC conversation regarding Calvinism?
Wherever you find two Baptists, you will also find three opinions. And, thus, my topic is both complicated and complex. For example, we cannot assume "leaders" from an elitist point of view but from a Baptist perspective that appreciates layman and pastors alike, and recognizes the value of each Baptist's opinion. Furthermore, there are a myriad of opinions when it comes to the view of salvation. The two commonalities in Baptist life regarding soteriology is the belief that salvation is wholly by grace and that salvation is secure in Christ. Otherwise, my paper will demonstrate the variety of views even within seemingly similar systems of thought.
6. You will lead a breakout session titled: “How Does Our Understanding of Salvation Impact the Local Church?” How contemporary to the SBC sitz im leben is this topic, and what, in general, will you convey?
The breakout session will be more pastoral in nature, with the goal of assisting pastors with regard to how one's view of salvation impacts the congregation, discipleship, and the lost. In the end, the discussion will revolve around how to have a greater passion to reach souls for the Kingdom through our view of our Lord and His finished work (Prov. 11:30).