The Sovereignty of God Conference (with amazing cell phone pics), Day 1

sovGodconfToday, the Sovereignty of God conference, put on by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, hosted by Bread of Life Fellowship in Haledon, NJ, came to a conclusion. The speakers included pastors from New Jersey as well as James White and Eric Redmond.

Well, I’m no Tim Challies, and I didn’t live-blog it, but I’m going to give a quick recap because this conference was a tremendous blessing to me.

How refreshing it was to attend a conference that had little to do with ourselves, our circle, convention, or denomination, or that promoted anyone’s agenda. The only agenda was the promotion of God’s sovereignty – a true conference on doctrine about God. And I say that it hit the nail on the head.

This conference was much more than expounding on a particular theological position, namely Calvinism. Despite the fact that there’s so much controversy and so many pot-shots going back and forth, the purpose wasn’t to arm us Calvinists with better arguments and more proof texts. Sure, some of the debate points were mentioned, but the emphasis was on the truth of God’s sovereignty as revealed in His word and the implications thereof. Instead of leaving me with ammunition to propagate the agenda of spreading 16th century soteriological nuances, I was left with a sense of awe about our mighty God. I was also given a humility about how I go about thinking about our sovereign God, communicating our sovereign God to others, and serving our sovereign God each day.

“God is God and we are not,” said Dr. James White as he opened the conference with the sermon, “The Sovereignty of God: a Biblical Theology.” The same topic was assigned 70 years ago as a conference of the same kind was held in neighboring Paterson, NJ. White picked up on the same concerns of those predecessors as he complained that many people come to church thinking too highly of themselves and too little of God. He reminded us that what is so amazing about Jesus coming to earth for us is that God didn’t have to do it but that He chose to. As our Creator, God doesn’t need us.

Though he didn’t get through everything he wanted, White took us to a few key passages to show God’s sovereignty in the scriptures. He took us to Isaiah 40:12-26, the great passage about God’s omnipotence and the nations being nothing in contrast to it. “The first thing God revealed about Himself,” says White, “is His absolute uniqueness.” He then related the idea of God’s uniqueness to the concept of holiness. He cited several other passages about God’s control over the affairs of men, including Psalm 33:10-11:

Psalm 33:10 The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations;
He frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
The plans of His heart from generation to generation. (NASB)

White stressed that the very heart of the king is in God’s hand (Proverbs 21:1), dispelling any notion of an absolutely “free” will. After expounding on God’s sovereignty and power, White asked a simple question: Why would any Christian want a God other than this? What kind of wisdom puts His power into man’s hand? He then pointed out some of the rampant inconsistencies in today’s Christian theology, including the fact that people have no problem with God’s sovereignty in prayers, over nations, and other facets of life, but the one area in which they will not give unto God His due sovereignty is salvation. Synergism, in short, says, “I can’t do it on my own. . . .and neither can God!”

White tied this together with the importance of justification. Just as someone can feel he has attributed to God His due sovereignty by admitting it exists, many evangelicals today pass over the emphasis of justification as long as grace and faith are mentioned. He gave the example of Francis Beckwith, who left his position as head of the Evangelical Theological Society to go back to Rome. Beckwith said he read the Countil of Trent and was surprised to see that the Catholic Church anathematized anyone who said salvation was apart from God’s grace. Since Rome believed God’s grace was necessary, Beckwith felt he was mislead and embraced Rome. White responded strongly: “The Reformation wasn’t about the necessity of God’s grace, but the sufficiency of it!” Likewise, mentioning sovereignty doesn’t guarantee a proper understanding thereof.

After the sermon, the first Q&A session took place. One question was based on Dave Hunt’s theory that the Old Testament is not Calvinistic because the offerings were for everyone. The answer, said White, is found in the book of Hebrews, which explains all the offerings. It was clearly for those who drew near. In addition, Israel itself was a peculiar  people (the offerings weren’t for the Assyrians, or the Egyptians, or the Midianites). And even within Israel itself, there was a remnant. Particularity is seen all over the Old Testament.

Another question was, can one be neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian? The panel concluded that there is no middle ground. And I agree. There are many who will assert they fall into neither camp, but the two positions are indeed mutually exclusive, and if one denies one, he accepts the other. The scourge of Arminianism, of course, has been the idea that one can fall from grace. In fundamentalist circles, one will often hear, “I believe salvation is for whosoever will, but you can’t lose your salvation. So, I’m not a Calvinist nor an Arminian.” Then labels like “biblicist”; “Bible believer” or other terms will be used in place to show that we hold to a tradition whereas they hold to the Bible. In reality, most non-Calvinists are at least 4-point Arminians. A simple  comparison chart can prove that.

Is God the author of sin? Dr. White answered by taking us to three key passages: Genesis 50, Isaiah 10, and Acts 4. In the first, Joseph’s brothers meant evil to him by selling him into slavery, yet the Word says God meant it unto good. White points out that this is a Hebrew parallel, proving that this wasn’t just God making good of a bad situation, rather just as his brothers determined to do evil to him, God determined to make the situation come to pass for His glory and to save many alive. In the second example, God uses the Assyrians to punish Israel and then punished the Assyrians for doing that. Going to the NT in case someone suffered from what White called “hyper-red-letterism”, he cited the apostolic prayer in Acts 4 to show how the apostles understood that God Himself ordained Pontius Pilate and Herod for the crucifixion of His Son. He then reminded us of God’s restraint. He is restraining people this very hour who would otherwise to evil things to us. Does God author sin? With the confessions, we conclude that He does not, in the sense that He violates His own purity. However, the scriptures are clear that God ordains everything, and everything has a purpose.

Day 2 began with the topic, if God is sovereign, why pray? I will cover that in the next post.

I took a few pictures with my Samsung cellular telephone device. To the untrained eye, these photos are award-winning caliber, but believe me, there are a few glaring problems:

Dr. White signs my copy of Scripture Alone:

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Dr. James White and myself. I don’t hesitate to say that James White is my favorite apologist of our day. He is truly a gift to the church. God has blessed him with discernment and a keen intellect, as well as the power of persuasion. Yet, he’s a very humble guy who isn’t interested in promoting himself but the God Who saved him. I’ve benefitted greatly from his writings as he’s covered a wide array of topics. His presuppositional, Reformed approach is what makes him stand out amogst most of today’s pop apologists, and I wold venture to say he’s carrying on the legacy of Van Til and Greg Bahnsen:

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Pastor Eric Redmond and I. All I knew of Redmond was from an article he had written as a guest blogger on Justin Taylor’s blog in response to Obama’s election, which I had linked to as well. God has certainly given this man a heart for Him and His work. In particular, Redmond is leading the way among African American churches in a resurgence of Reformed theology. He has also served as the Second Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention:
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The auditorium wasn’t huge, but it filled up pretty well. There were probably over 100 pastors and lay leaders in attendance (obviously not in this particular shot):

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The clear winner of the debate in the book Debating Calvinism signed his side of the front page. I wonder if I should get Dave Hunt to sign under his name? Nah. . . . . . by the way, I love how Dr. White’s verse is Acts 13:48:

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