Sorry, I got all Baptist with my alliteration in the title. I won’t let that happen again!
Have you been to a good conference recently? Maybe one of the many Calvinist/Reformed conferences that focus on the “gospel” (as they see it). Perhaps you’ve been to one of the several “Calvinism Ain’t Good” conferences that examine the points of Calvinism in order and expose their weaknesses. Perhaps you have gone to a church planting or church growth conference, or a spiritual life conference or a pastors’ conference or…well, there are so many!
And each of them has their own benefits and blessings (sorry – more “b” words). None of them is inherently evil. I think there is a danger in depending too heavily for instruction and encouragement on these conferences. Several Christian leaders have issued warnings about the dangers of over-conferencing. But, by and large, they can be helpful.
I’d like to address a specific type of conference and make a suggestion. There are conferences designed to confront a particular doctrine, idea or practice. Of course, Strange Fire, which happened just this weekend, is a prime example of this. A large group of cessationists gathered to expose the errors and deficiencies of the charismatic movement. Since this issue became somewhat personal to me for reasons most of you are aware of, I will not give a judgment on the values of that particular conference. I am speaking of a type of conference, not that one in particular. There have been several conferences recently by non-Calvinists to confront the “doctrines of grace” (as Calvinists designate them). Calvinists have had no end of conferences promoting their viewpoint on theology and practice. At these conferences, there is generally only one side given. At Strange Fire, charismatics were talked about, but not listened to. You won’t find many non-Reformed speakers at Calvinistic conferences and the non-Calvinist conferences seldom give a Calvinist the chance to address the crowd.
For the sake of this post, let us call those “contra-conferences” – gatherings that focus on something they are against. Against charismatics. Against Calvinists. Against seeker church. Against…fill in the blank.
Here is my suggestion (which I fully expect to be ignored) concerning contra-conferences:
Stop having them and stop attending them. Replace them with conferences where representatives of both sides converse to discuss issues, promote understanding and build unity.
It is fun to get together with a lot of people who agree with you and magnify the errors of those who don’t agree with you. But is it spiritually productive? Wouldn’t it be better to have a different kind of conference, one that builds up instead of providing a forum for unchecked verbal beat-downs of the other side?
Random Thoughts on the Topic
1) Include other viewpoints in the conference. A professor in seminary (Howard Hendricks) told us, “Don’t just read those people with whom you agree. All that will do is reinforce your prejudices. Read the other side, the opponents, and interact with their ideas. That will build clear, logical, incisive thinking.” (Not an exact quote). The same principle applies here.
Does anyone know a single charismatic who believes that charismatic doctrine and practice was fairly represented at Strange Fire? I’ve talked to enough Calvinists to know that they feel like John 3:16 and other such conferences have grossly misrepresented their views. Non-Calvinists feel caricatured by some Calvinist representations.
Duh. If you want to know what dispensationalists believe, read scholarly dispensationalists, not those who disdain the doctrine. Read charismatics (the more reasonable ones), to find out what their beliefs really are.
Why not a conference in which a Calvinist and a non-Calvinist are each asked to address, in sequence, the Five Points, then have Q&A after each one. What about a conference where cessationists and charismatics discuss their differing views of pneumatology and seek understanding, rather than just stand back and lob missiles from afar? Why not invite Rick Warren to come and speak to a group of those who disdain seeker strategies, to attempt to clarify, educate and sharpen one another.
Frankly, many of our conferences are just reinforcing our prejudices rather than challenging us to deeper and clearer thinking. We gather and reinforce our own sense of spiritual or theological superiority, but the Body of Christ is not edified and the Kingdom is not advanced.
2) This suggestion pertains to discussions between Christians. There may be some value to scholarly debates between biblical Christians and those from other groups that deny fundamental truth, but I would not suggest those as conferences for general spiritual encouragement.
I’m talking about Calvinism-related discussions, pneumatology issues, conferences on worship-style or church-planting strategies such things, especially if they stray into the “contra-conference” category.
3) Our natural tendency toward tribalism has to be resisted. Okay, confession time. The baseball playoffs are on as I write this, and the Boston Red Evils are one win away from going to the World Series. I HATE those guys. Viscerally. Passionately. I can’t watch their bearded, smug, so-an-so faces without disgust. Why? I’m part of a different tribe – the Pinstripes! The good guys. The 27-time champs.
Now, an admission. Boston Red Sox fans are not inherently evil. It pains me to say that, but it is true. There are people who cheer for the Sox who are not terrible human beings just because they have bad taste in baseball.
I know, it’s silly, but it makes a point. We have a tribal tendency and we tend to view those who are part of our tribe as better than those who are not. I’m part of the Baptist tribe. I am Baptist convictionally, but there is also a tribal component there. We like to believe that our views and convictions are 100% biblically based (ours, but not the other side’s!) But in our more honest moments we might admit that there is a smidgen of tribalism mixed in with our biblical convictions.
We need to fight that! Division is always easier in the church. It is our natural, fleshly tendency to divide into camps and disdain the other tribes as lesser. Such comes from our lower nature, not from the Spirit.
4) This is not to say that false doctrine should not be confronted. It should. I’d never give Benny Hinn a forum to speak to anyone. Those who deny the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, or the blood atonement of Christ should not be given opportunity to deceive. But unless, like the more extreme cessationists, you view charismatics as the enemies of the gospel, we ought to honor one another and seek to build understanding.
5) This might have some positive impact on the Body. A friend of mine, a prominent charismatic pastor (and conference speaker – irony?) once told me this. “Dave, the church as a whole needs you Baptists. You guys have a depth of Bible knowledge that our circles often don’t have. You can help to ground us and keep us anchored. But you need to engage the greater church, not withdraw from it.”
He made a lot of sense to me. There is something to be learned and gained from various segments of the church. I am blessed by Calvinist friends and by non-Calvinist friends. I learn from both. I am blessed by the simple, passionate faith of the charismatics I know, while I think the cessationists have a role in helping us check the excesses of subjective Christianity. We benefit from involvement with one another.
When we sit back in our enclaves and lob nukes at each other, we do not gain that benefit.
6) Ultimately, these contra-conferences seem just plain unfair. A group gets together and talks about people who aren’t there, don’t have a voice and don’t have an opportunity to defend themselves, explain themselves or respond to charges. As the British used to say, it’s just bad form. Is it not a form of gossip – talking bad about people who are not there? It just doesn’t seem fair.
I am more than aware that my suggestion is impractical and will almost certainly be roundly ignored. I’m okay with that. I still think it is a good idea!
What say you?