Several years ago I sat in an associational meeting where a trio of pastors sang “In Christ Alone.” It’s a wonderful hymn, and I was excited to hear it sung in our meeting. That is until they got to the end of the second verse where the song—as written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty—says, “‘Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” I knew the song and was familiar with the lyrics. So you can imagine my shock when instead these three pastors sang, “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” Of course there is nothing wrong with saying that the love of God was magnified on the cross. But I knew what was happening. The song had been adapted so as not to affirm penal substitution.
That was my first personal experience with Baptist pastors denying the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. Sadly, it was not the last.
For this reason and others, I am thankful that we passed a resolution “On the Necessity of Penal Substitutionary Atonement” last week at the Southern Baptist Convention. This resolution begins by acknowledging, “In recent days numerous voices from the Protestant world have boldly attacked the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.”
The resolution goes on to state the effects of denying penal substitutionary atonement.
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement in effect denies the holy and loving God the exercise of His justice, the overflow of which in a sinful world is the outpouring of His just retributive wrath; and
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement thus displays in effect the denial of the perfect character of the one true God; and
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement constitutes false teaching that leads the flock astray (Acts 20:28) and leaves the world without a message of a sin-cleansing Savior (Romans 5:6–11); and
WHEREAS, The denial of penal substitutionary atonement necessarily compromises the biblical and historical doctrines of propitiation, expiation, ransom, satisfaction, Christus Victor, Christus Exemplar, and more;
Finally, the resolution states, “RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, June 13–14, 2017, reaffirm the truthfulness, efficacy, and beauty of the biblical doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as the burning core of the Gospel message and the only hope of a fallen race.”
The resolution passed unanimously. That would not have been possible without the Conservative Resurgence. Every once in a while someone comes around here to state that the Conservative Resurgence was unnecessary. There were no theological liberals in the SBC. It was always only ever about politics, they say.
If you believe that, you need to read some of the things being written by Baptist pastors today who no longer identify themselves as Southern Baptists. One such article was written by Jim Somerville who pastors First Baptist Church in Richmond, VA. FBC Richmond is a little over an hour from where I currently pastor. It is a historic church both in the Southern Baptist Convention and within the Baptist General Association of Virginia. In the article entitled “Enough ‘Virgin in the Volcano’ theology,” Somerville sets his aim at the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus. He wrongly claims this view of the atonement is incompatible with the doctrine of the Trinity, and argues that it’s time to finally set it aside.
I read another article today over at BNG called “Losing Jesus: My lament and call today as a progressive pastor.” The article is shockingly candid. He acknowledges that often his “sermons have more references to an article from the New York Times, to the amazing black feminist leader bell hooks, and to the poetry of Rumi than to Jesus and his words in the Gospels.” In his pursuit of progressive causes, he lost Jesus. That’s of course what conservative evangelicals have been warning of for years. Forsake the Bible and its teachings on controversial subjects and you will eventually lose Jesus. Sadly, this so-called pastor has adopted the wrong solution. He believes that he needs to add Jesus back to all of the other things he believes rather than recognizing that he has gone completely off the rails and needs to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith.
Thankfully, this kind of denial of the faith once for all delivered to the saints has no place in the Southern Baptist Convention. Today we are a denomination that can unanimously pass a resolution on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. We are a denomination that stands firmly on the Bible. We have our issues. Our baptism numbers are declining. Church membership and worship statistics are down. But the conversation in Phoenix was about how we can better and more faithfully proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ rather than what other scriptural teachings we need to deny or what other accommodations we need to make to the culture.
I was not yet born when Adrian Rogers was first elected as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Conservative Resurgence was over before I graduated High School. But I learned of the work of those who rescued our denomination from shipwreck as a seminary student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. But I don’t have to take my professors’ word for it to know that the SBC was in need of a Conservative Resurgence. I’ve seen the evidence with my own eyes.