The Sovereignty of God Conference, Day 2 (am)

sovGodconfDue to work, I missed the morning session of Day 2, which included 2 messages. However, I was able to listen to them yesterday on CD. What a blessing! Each message fit right into the theme and continued in this wonderful conference of solid, biblical preaching.

Bill Poss, an elder at the host church, kicked it off with the topic, “God’s Sovereign Choice of the Younger Son.” His sermon was very exegetical, drawing from the text the only conclusion that can be consistently made: God will mercy whom He will and harden whom He will. Consequently, the message focused on Romans 9 and God’s unconditional election based on His purpose.

Eric Redmond followed him and spoke on “God’s Sovereignty and the Call of the Pastor.” He had us open to 2 Timothy, and I smugly thought I knew where he was going, but I was surprised. I figured he would preach on Paul’s charge to Timothy, or the qualifications of a pastor, or something to that extent. He did touch on those things, but the thrust of his message actually dealt with Paul’s terrible conditions in chapter 4:9-22 and how Timothy was called to be by his side. The point was clear: the call of God on one’s life is more important than the place in which he serves. Coming from a leader familiar with the tough, transient, often unrecognized nature of urban ministry, this message was profound. For me, it hit home, for I’ve been involved in urban ministry myself and feel that is where God will be using me for the rest of my life.

Though Redmond has had leadership within a big convention such as the SBC, he is more familiar with the small church in the ghetto. He compared that to working in a easy, salaried position at the big suburban church under the big name preacher. He was careful not to preach against that scenario, but encouraged us in saying that ministry is not all about that. The same sovereign God who calls someone to that acclaimed church is the One Who sovereignly calls someone to a hard and lonely place.

Redmond also spoke on how to handle reformation within a church. Due to the fact that I listened to this sermon in my car as I wasn’t there live, I don’t have all the notes. Hey, I said I’m no Challies. But what he said in this message is worth listening to a few times, and I would encourage anyone in the ministry to get a copy. (I will link to the audio when the Alliance makes them available; the Q&A sessions can be found here for free)

Paulo Freire, pastor of Hope Evangelical Free Church of Sussex, NJ, began the afternoon session (which I did attend) with the topic, “The Sovereignty of God and Prayer.” His assignment was no easy task, as he had to answer the question, “if God is sovereign, why pray?” An overemphasis on God’s sovereignty to a neglect of man’s responsibility (this conference affirmed both) will lead one to fatalism. That is the charge, at least, and though it is not as common as mainstream Calvinism, hyper-Calvinism is indeed a true expression. No Christian should be so caught up in the theological truth of God’s sovereignty that he refuses to evangelize and refuses to pray. In fact, that very refusal would be a contradiction of the very truths he claims to believe, because the sovereignty of God ought to cause us to pray.

Freire said that the question “why pray?” is very legitimate and shouldn’t be lightly dismissed as an attack on the doctrines of grace. He told the story of a woman he knew named Eileen who became so caught up in a misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty that she died completely prayerless in the midst of struggle. He said that ought not be the result of a true perspective of God. “She believed in the sovereignty of God,” said Freire, “but she didn’t understand it.”

He took us to Acts 9:11-12 and the account of Paul, the new convert, and his encounter with Ananias. From the human perspective, their meeting was a result of personal prayer. From the divine perspective, God ordained that the two shall meet. The principle we must learn is God ordains the means as well as the ends.

Like preaching, prayer is a human act carried out according to our will and discipline, said Freire. Our worry of lack of prayer is our lack of desire for what God has decreed. Romans 8:14 shows that prayer is a privilege not guaranteed to everyone, and the Christian approached God as a Father. Does God answer the prayers of the heathen? Freire answered yes and no – He does so if He wants to. He drew upon Luke 11:13, Hebrews 4:16, and Ephesians 1:9,10.

Freire then added some more principles – aspects upon which not all Calvinists would probably agree. The audience seemed behind him, though, as he used the scriptures to prove his points (another thing I liked about this conference is that there was a noticeable diversity among the speakers. None of them seemed to think that they had all the answers. After 2,000 years of theologians and preachers wrestling with the truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, no one attended this conference believing it was the end-all to the discussion. Even so, we were all united by what we understood to be the biblical emphasis of God’s sovereignty). He said that “knowledge does not prove total control.” By that statement, I doubt Freire was denying that God is in “total control” of the universe. Rather, he explained, “He is the ultimate cause but not necessarily the immediate cause.” He made sure to emphasize that we are not fatalists. He also noted that we can make God sad, as the Bible teaches God had sorrow on account of man’s actions and God can be grieved. He made sure to point out that we have not because we ask not. “God will have His way, but sovereignty does not preclude freedom.” He then used Jeremiah 19:5 to expound on the “permissive” aspect of the will of God. He quoted Edwards as saying, “our wills are free but only to the extent of our natures.” Our natures, of course, are enslaved to sin. He then concluded, “God works with our free choices to procure His will.” I think we were all in basic agreement though not everyone in attendance would have worded it in quite that way.

In application, Freire gave some lists, and admittedly I do not have all the notes. So this will be partial. He spoke on ways in which prayer changes things. A distinction was made between God’s foreknowledge and His decreed will. What was helpful here is how we are able to know God’s revealed will and how will do not know his secret will. In other words, we obey what has been revealed to us and do not try to uncover where we think God is going with all of this. Finally, he said, “prayer changes me.”

Some other thoughts on prayer included:

– pray with a sense of privilege and weakness
– pray according to His revealed will
– God knows best for us – don’t try to change His mind, He must change ours.
– prayer is a vital part of the Christian life
– prayer enjoins us to God and directs one’s entire day
– prayer is a first priority, not a last resort
– prayer is not meditation
– prayer is commanded

Some hindrances include the desire to be seen and heard and repetitious words. Prayer develops trust and depends fellowship with God. It allows us to be involved in eternally important activity and advances the kingdom. Finally, prayer gives glory to God. Truly, a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty will yield a life of prayer, not become a hindrance.

(as I’m typing this I’m reminded of how much of a marathon of preaching this was!)

Gabe Grossi proved that whoever said Calvinists are dry are misinformed. He preached on “the Sovereignty of God and Preaching” and he brought it home! This man was born and raised in Italy as a Roman Catholic before coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. There’s a special place in my heart for Italians. Reformed Baptist Italians? Well, now, that’s where it’s at!

Anyway, I didn’t take too many notes for this one like I did the one on prayer, but sat back and listened as Grossi expounded the Word boldly and ignited a fire for all of us. He used the contrast of Acts 13:48 through Acts 14:1 to show the divine and human aspects of preaching. He said, “don’t ever use the Sovereignty of God as an excuse for cold, lethargic preaching.” Personally, I grew tired of the emphasis on “bold preaching” in the IFB movement. I believed that preaching ought to be bold but I was uncomfortable with the “volume + histrionics = true, Spirit filled preaching” model. But I’m thankful that I’m not required to go to the other extreme either. People ought to be themselves. An excitable guy shouldn’t be afraid to be himself any more than someone who is less emotional. The boldness is in the message, and in particular, our confidence in that message.  So I was thrilled that Gabe Grossi was sent to give us this message, that the sovereignty of God ought to compel us to compel them!

The day session ended with James Domm, a pastor from Englewood Baptist Church, and his project of a topic, “The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility.” He joked that he would put an end to the controversy in 45 minutes. His sermon was well thought out and very understandable. Of course, he didn’t put an end to the age old question of how one can harmonize God’s sovereignty with human responsibility, but I think he put it in as biblical a perspective as one can get. He was prepared with handouts (click to view):

handout1handout2

The next post will recount Tuesday evening.

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