By Mike Holloway, Guest Columnist
ALEXANDRIA (LBM)–Where are we going in the Southern Baptist Convention pertaining to the love of God?
I am hearing and reading about more and more Southern Baptists who say that God does not love the world, with some using theologically hair-splitting statements like “well God doesn’t love everyone the same or with the same kind of love” to argue their point.
I would like to see the Bible verse that tells us that.
More importantly, I really want to know if the Southern Baptist Convention is moving in that direction, one that discourages me from going to my neighbor and telling Him that God loves him and has a wonderful plan for his life.
If this is the new SBC direction, then we really don’t have much of a message of hope to a lost and dying world. We need to throw away our Gospel tracts and stop doing outreach altogether because we’d be lying to some of our neighbors if God really doesn’t love them.
I recently read an article by Lisa Bevere titled, “God Doesn’t Love His Children Equally,” in which she contends “God loves us uniquely rather than equally.”
She wrote convincingly that “unique” is better than “equal” in that “equal” implies God’s love is “measured or measurable,” and she emphasized that “His marvelous love is not subject to portion control.”
“You can turn from Him, run away and make your bed in Hell,” she added, “but your actions will not stop His love for you.”
In view of God’s love as expressed through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, she is right on the mark that God’s love is “immeasurable” and “inexhaustible” for us all.
Theologian and Pastor R.C. Sproul also contends that when we read about the love of God in Scripture, distinctions have to be made. But his concept of unique means, in effect, “not all.”
Sproul said, “There are three types of divine love that we find in Scripture. First is God’s benevolent love, which speaks of God’s attitude of kindness or His benevolent will that falls on everyone. Second is God’s beneficent love, which is not just His attitude of kindness but His practical kindness to all humanity. An example of this is the act of God in providing sun and rain for the flourishing of all cultures (Matthew 5:45). Third is God’s complacent love, but do not confuse the word ‘complacency’ with being careless or flippant. Theologically, this concept means God’s special love toward His people.”
We must, according to Sproul, be careful not to speak about God’s special love in terms of all people. Instead, Sproul argues that God’s special love, the atoning sacrifice by His Son, is limited.
In fact, Pastor Sproul said “it is blasphemy to say God loves the world unconditionally” — a statement that really troubles me.
Now God may not love what someone becomes or chooses to do with regard to sin. But, it is a mistake to believe God does not love every person enough to forgive him or her if he or she is willing to listen to God and repent, even in the case of Esau.
For instance, consider Paul’s declarations to Timothy and Titus:
— “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
— “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11).
Then of course, there are the “whosoever will” passages in the Old and New Testaments, including Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Romans 10:12-13 and Revelation 22:17.
In light of these and so many other verses, I am puzzled about the trend in recent years of increasing numbers of Southern Baptists who argue God does not love the lost and who oppose telling people to “ask Jesus into their hearts.”
This flies in the face of such Scriptures as John 1:12, ”But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”
Furthermore, I am convinced we must receive Jesus somewhere and the heart is presented as the throne of our lives (see 1 Peter 3:15, for example). Paul said Christ “dwells” in our “hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:17) and John said we know the Spirit of truth because He “dwells” in us (John 14:17). If not the heart, where does He dwell?
It seems we are being encouraged to discourage overt evangelism efforts across the SBC. So, it’s no wonder baptisms are down significantly in recent years.
Moreover, if we are being pushed to believe God doesn’t love the world, then why should we spend millions to send missionaries around the globe? Isn’t this being dishonest to ourselves and the nations?
I recently read “The Gospel: A Message for Every Person,” by Dr. Adam Harwood, an associate professor of theology with the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In the article Dr. Harwood makes three theological statements: God loves every person; Christ died for every person; and, God wants to save every person. Then he gives extensive theological support for each point.
I don’t have time or space to restate his theology but it is solid. You can read the entire article on SBCToday.com.
But I mention his work because I believe Southern Baptists need to consider his three points in the context of theological and evangelistic questions: Do we believe that God loves every person? Did Jesus die for every person? Does God want to save every person?
If we can agree the answer to all three is “yes,” there’s still hope for the SBC.
If on the other hand, there are widespread differences of opinion, or an overwhelming chorus of “no” – indicating uncertainty about whom God loves, or even if God wants to save the lost – then we might be better served to spend our ministry dollars on a social gospel just like the lodge groups down the road.
Mike Holloway is pastor of Ouachita Baptist Church in West Monroe. He serves on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and as chair of Louisiana Baptists’ Moral and Social Concerns Committee, and, is a past president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention (2007-2009).