Reflections on the Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit

The Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit was a wonderful experience. I want to join with others in saying that Dwight McKissic, the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, TX, is a prince among men. He was generous, gracious, and humble at all times. Regularly during our conversations, he would ask me what I thought about things.  That was amazing to me and very humbling as well. Most pastors of 2,000 member churches that I have met are wonderful men, but they are not often interested in the opinions of a 32 year old pastor of a 250 member church. That’s the SBC that I’ve known, anyway.  We base so much on rank, influence, and what someone can do for us, or how interesting they are to us. Rarely, do we look for the value in each person. I really feel that Pastor McKissic does that and he was really an example to me. His assistant, Veronica Griffin, did an incredible job as the conference organizer. She really knew what she was doing, no doubt. Thanks Veronica for all of your hard work!

Overall, the conference went well. I especially enjoyed spending time with Dr. Sam Storms. He is a brilliant man with a passion for God and His glory. I was especially encouraged by his message on Saturday night where he laid out a perspective regarding the idea that Jesus ministered and lived by the same Holy Spirit that we do. The power that was in Jesus in now in us. The implications that he drew from that were remarkable.

I enjoyed meeting and spending some time with those who were representing a semi-cessationist view, Bart Barber and Robin Foster. Robin has a very sincere and gentle heart and it is obvious that He loves the Lord and seeks to honor Jesus in everthing he does. Bart is very intelligent and did a great job with his presentation. He and I have vigorously debated issues in the blogosphere over the past 6 months or so, but those debates have always been respectful, enjoyable, and challenging. He is no less in person. I am sharper theologically for having tangled with Bart and I am grateful that both he and Robin are in the SBC.

I also spent time with Wade Burleson, Ben Cole, Art Rogers, Jason Epps, Daniel Brymer, Bob Cleveland, Paul Burleson, Debbie Kaufman, Alyce Lee, Boyd Luter, and Dorcas Hawker. Dorcas has the best notes anywhere on the conference, if you want to read them HERE, HERE, and HERE).  UPDATE: She also has a synopsis of ALL the relevant posts and news articles HERE. Check it out. Wade has a great synopsis of the Sunday worship service HERE and a summary of Dr. Sam Storms Saturday morning presentation HERE.  I know that I missed some people, but it was a wonderful time.

I was pleased with my presentation on "Defining and Defending Continualism," and am proud to say that my presentation was the shortest in the entire conference at 35 minutes (members of my church will be shocked to hear that, I know!).  I had prepared for a 50 minute presentation, but Pastor McKissic leaned back and asked if I could cut it to a half hour because we were running short of time and things had gotten backed up. Ugh. The previous speakers had all gone a bit over, and while individually it wasn’t a major deal, collectively it made the difference. I definitely wanted to be respectful of his instructions, so I started scrambling to figure out what I needed to jettison. My presentation would not make sense if sections were missing, I thought, so I decided to stick with the whole thing, but not elaborate much on each point – just let it speak for itself. I think that I was to the point, but I know that there is much more that I would have like to have said and I am sure that I left some with confusion. So, even though it felt hurried and incomplete, I trust that God used it to do His work.

My thoughts on this subject have been enumerated on my Holy Spirit posts in November, 2006 (click on Holy Spirit in Categories and move down – 4 posts). But, a couple of things seemed to jump out:

  1. Dr. Sam Storms and I were asked to defend the Continualist position. Bart Barber and Robin Foster were asked to defend the Cessationist position. Unless they got more detailed instructions that we got, the results were very interesting. Without collusion, Dr. Storms and I both defended the idea that all of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are for today, including speaking in tongues. We each talked about tongues, but they were minor parts of our presentations, as they should be. Bart and Robin both focused on tongues almost exclusively. Again, they might have had more detailed instructions, but I wonder if they did that because the main issue for many cessationists or semi-cessationists is tongues? To me, tongues are not the big deal – they are just one of many gifts.  For others, including the trustees of the IMB, it seems to be THE issue. That was educational.
  2. Some people expressed surprise at my statements that no one got saved from hearing anyone speak in tongues in the Book of Acts. No one. Anywhere. In Acts 2, the 120 spoke in tongues giving praise to God, and the people heard them in their own language. The result was confusion as they asked, "What does this mean?" Peter explained it for them by clearly preaching the gospel and 3,000 were added to their number that day. In Acts 10, those in Cornelius’ house spoke in tongues AFTER they heard the gospel and the Holy Spirit fell upon them. If these were intelligible human languages given for evangelisitc purposes, then what language was it? They were all Samaritans there, and at that point, they were all believers. In Acts 19, the disciples of John the Baptist, likewise, spoke in tongues and prophesied AFTER the Holy Spirit came upon them. Again, they all spoke the same language and had already believed. No evangelistic emphasis there. And, if they spoke in other human languages, what were they? Was there an interpreter? What was the purpose, since they all already spoke the same language?

I imagine that I’ll go to my grave before I get satisfactory answers to those questions. In my opinion, whether your argument is from history or from theological gymnastics based on some Bible verses, you do not have much of a leg to stand upon if you stand in the cessationist quicksand. I had everyone stand up at the beginning and I read around 15 passages to them recounting God’s miraculous works in the New Testament. I could have read way more, as there are over 150 passages in Scripture showing us the miraculous works of God through His people. Are we to believe that this work is over? If so, I don’t think that I could believe anything that Scripture says about God. Perhaps some can, but that would basically be impossible for me. It is becoming that closely connected to the character and work of the Lord for me. But, while it is a big deal to me, I continue to reiterate that it is not something that I want to divide over. I fully respect and desire to work with any other believers who have different positions than I do on this issue. There are more important things that we should be focusing on!

Well, as I stated before, the conference was well done. I didn’t agree with everything that every speaker said (on both sides), but I did agree with the gracious spirit of all who participated. May we have many more days like these.

UPDATE:  Robin Foster has put much of his paper online HERE. We engaged in healthy discussion over his points. Jason Epps debated Robin’s paper HERE point by point. He provided an excellent analysis of the subjunctive mood of the Greek that Robin uses to buttress his point in the comment section of his post. It is definitely worth checking out for those who are interested in the minutae of this debate. Excellent.

15 Responses to Reflections on the Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit

  1. Alan,
    I too completely enjoyed the conference. I’m sorry that I had to leave Saturday afternoon but what I did get to partake of was very edifying even if I didn’t agree with every point.
    Crossroads did a wonderful job of hosting. I just fell in love with the people of the church.
    Even though I did have to leave early, I stayed long enough to hear your Saturday presentation. In fact, I have admired your blogging so much it was one of the main reasons I attended. I enjoyed getting to meet you. God bless as you continue to work for the kingdom.

  2. p.s.-I knew I sounded really hoarse while I was in Texas. I found out today that I have pneumonia. Please pray for me.

  3. It was such a privilege to meet you Alan. This conference is something I think everyone who possibly can should go to at least once. I agree with your assessment of this Conference including Dr. McKissic. I have always had a great respect for this man, it’s grown since this conference.

  4. Harold,
    It was great meeting you too! I’m glad that you enjoyed the conference and am SO sorry about your pneumonia. I wish that we could have talked a bit longer. I will pray that God will make you well.

  5. Great meeting you as well, Debbie! I’ve thought of you as the “Baptist Firecracker” with your straightforward comments and desire for sincerity. Keep it up!

  6. Allan
    I enjoyed your presentation although I did want to talk to you a little about the emphasis on the ministry of the Holy Ghost in what is traditionally cessationist circles with folks who are revivalists. I started to talk to you but Ben and I were visiting and by the time we were finished you were gone…my apologies because I actually had mentioned you during one of my comments and thought you deserved an explanation of my comment. By the way…we share a common trial…My 15 year old son is a cancer survivor. You and your son and the family have been on my prayer list for some time now.
    Jack Maddox

  7. Alan,
    I’ve offered something to carry the conversation further. You’ll find it over at my place.

  8. Alan,
    As I mentioned to you at the conference, your times before the folks in Arlington, the other speakers, and the bloggers I’ve read and enjoyed over the past couple of years are all part of the reason for my personal encouraged attitude about the SBC.
    I, as you are, am aware that we don’t NEED the SBC to be faithful to the Lord, grow a Church, and win people to Christ, but it has been my chosen tool for world evangelism. I admit that I’ve gotten discouraged with the convention in the past few years. But you and so many others like you have sure turned the ship of my attitude around. It was pure delight to get to talk with you personally at the conference. Than you for being a part of the solution to things instead of a part of the problem.
    You and your great family will CONTINUE to be prayed for by the Burlesons.

  9. Alan, I consider myself blessed to have attended this conference. Your contribution to the conference was invaluable. I’m very thankful you had the opportunity to share. But I have to tell you, your demeanor, your kind and sweet spirit made it easy to listen to you. Now, I can now read your blog with an appreciation for who you are. Agape, Alycelee

  10. Alan
    It was a joy to meet you. Let me say that I talked with Pastor Dwight on several occassions and told him what I was doing. He said that was okay. I might add that several statements concerning the policies of the IMB were made at the conference also. These had more to do with politics than the Holy Spirit.
    I will confess it was me who went apparently too long. On the time sheet I received, it said that I would have a full hour. That is what I was prepared to do and I only did 58 minutes. BTW, nearly all the continualist presenters went over their time. I guess Bart and I were just trying to keep things balanced since we were the only ones offering opposing points.:-) I know they tried to get others but were unable.
    If I had to do it again, I would not have read my report, but focused on certain points in it. This could have led to a shorter time.
    Anyways, thanks for your gracious spirit. BTW, I haven’t ripped Mark 16:9-20 out of my Bible. ūüôā
    God Bless

  11. Your observation about the lack of an evangelical use of tongues in the Bible was enlightening to me. I have never believed the argument that tongues are a previously unknown language used for the purpose of sharing the gospel, and I have greater understanding as to why. Even in the Bible, it never served for that purpose!
    My only complaint about the conference is that we did not spend very much time talking about the elephant in the living room: can cessationists and continuationists cooperate together for missions. Bart hinted at the problem, and Dr. Luter did a great job of defining the problem and possible solution, but it was never really addressed.
    That remains the key issue. Can I continue to send my mission money to an agency that would not appoint me as a missionary (or hire me for a paid position) because of my doctrine?

  12. Todd,
    I share your struggle. I think that we all need to be led by the Lord in prayer and counsel. I hope to explore the implications of this issue a bit more a few months from now, but I want to have some things worked out in my own mind and heart before then.
    I enjoyed seeing you this weekend. I feel like I am saying this to a lot of people, but I wish that we could have talked more. I didn’t have my own vehicle and I was always catching rides with folks, so I ended up staying with the same people. That is regrettable.

  13. Alan,
    Didn’t get a chance to meet you at the conference, but I enjoyed your presentation. I did have a question, though. One point Dr. Barber mentioned in his presentation was that modern glossolalia does not hold up under linguistic analysis–by which I suppose he means that when linguists study utterances in tongues their findings show that these utterances do not conform to known linguistic patterns. Anecdotally, of course, I do know of several occurences where a person speaking in tongues was understood by an observer as speaking in a modern language unknown to the individual. I am also aware of a study shown on Nightline a few weeks ago which showed brain activity of those praying in tongues showing activity in the language portion of the brain identical to that of people praying in English–but distinct from people speaking gibberish, which does not show activity in that language sphere of the brain. I have also been told that there are studies in which linguists were able to listen to recordings of people speaking in tongues and distinguish them from people merely speaking in gibberish, but have been unable to locate any such studies. Have you found any linguistic studies of tongues which might answer his objection? Thanks.

  14. I actually missed your presentation on Saturday afternoon. But I read Dorcas Hawker’s notes.
    I don’t understand why Baptists seem to feel the need to split over this issue. The SBC has doctrinal diversity within the convention that is greater than the difference between continualists and cessationists related to the sign gifts. The effects of these differences in cooperative missions and ministry institutions are probably not even noticeable, especially if those who are continualists hold to tongues being a gift related to private prayer language.
    I’ve never spoken in tongues. However, there were several points during the worship Friday evening when I more or less lost awareness of my surroundings, and was totally and completely focused on worship. I believe that was the Spirit’s movement. On two occasions, during the praise time, I wasn’t even aware of tears that were streaming down my cheeks. But I was very much aware of the movement of the Spirit.

  15. Leigh,
    Stephen Pruett left me this article last November. While interesting, I don’t put a lot of weight in such things either for or against. We must believe the Bible and trust that God is greater than science. Science proves all types of things and then changes it’s stance on issues. But, this is very interesting:
    Brain scans examine ‚Äúspeaking in tongues‚ÄĚ
    Nov., 2006
    Courtesy University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
    and World Science staff
    When mem¬≠bers of cer¬≠tain re¬≠li¬≠gious sects ‚Äúspeak in tongues,‚ÄĚ they mouth what sounds like an in¬≠com¬≠pren¬≠si¬≠ble lan¬≠guage, which to them has great mean¬≠ing. Now, re¬≠search¬≠ers have tak¬≠en what they say are the first brain scans of peo¬≠ple speak¬≠ing in tongues.
    The sci­en­t­ists, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia School of Med­i­cine, found de­creased ac­tiv­i­ty in the fron­t­al lobes, a brain ar­ea be­hind the fore­head as­so­ci­at­ed with self-con­t­rol.
    It‚Äôs ‚Äúfas¬≠ci¬≠nat¬≠ing be¬≠cause these sub¬≠jects tru¬≠ly be¬≠lieve that the spir¬≠it of God is mov¬≠ing through them and con¬≠trol¬≠ling them to speak,‚ÄĚ said the uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ty‚Äôs An¬≠drew New¬≠berg, one of the re¬≠search¬≠ers.
    The ‚Äúre¬≠search shows us that these sub¬≠jects are not in con¬≠t¬≠rol of the usu¬≠al lan¬≠guage cen¬≠ters dur¬≠ing this ac¬≠ti¬≠v¬≠i¬≠ty, which is con¬≠sis¬≠t¬≠ent with their de¬≠s¬≠c¬≠rip¬≠tion of a lack of in¬≠ten¬≠tio¬≠n¬≠al con¬≠t¬≠rol.‚ÄĚ
    The study ap­pears in the No­vem­ber is­sue of the jour­nal Psy­chi­a­try Re­search: Neu­ro­im­ag­ing.
    The in¬≠ves¬≠ti¬≠ga¬≠tion com¬≠pared the brains of those speak¬≠ing in tongues to people sing¬≠ing gos¬≠pel mu¬≠sic. ‚ÄúWe no¬≠ticed a num¬≠ber of changes,‚ÄĚ New¬≠berg said, in¬≠clud¬≠ing in re¬≠gions tied to emo¬≠tions and the sense of self.
    ‚ÄúThese find¬≠ings could be in¬≠ter¬≠preted as the sub¬≠ject‚Äôs sense of self be¬≠ing tak¬≠en over by some¬≠thing else. We, sci¬≠en¬≠tif¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly, as¬≠sume it‚Äôs be¬≠ing tak¬≠en over by an¬≠oth¬≠er part of the brain. But we could¬≠n‚Äôt see, in this im¬≠ag¬≠ing stu¬≠dy, where this took place.‚ÄĚ
    New­berg con­clud­ed that the changes in the brain dur­ing speak­ing in tongues re­flect a com­plex pat­tern of brain ac­tiv­i­ty. Fu­ture stud­ies will be needed to con­firm the find­ings and de­mys­ti­fy the phe­nom­e­non, he added.
    Speak­ing in tongues, which has ex­isted for mil­len­ni­a and is men­tioned in the Bi­ble, is tech­ni­cal­ly called glos­so­la­lia. In Chris­ti­an­i­ty it is particularly as­so­ci­at­ed with Pen­te­cos­tal de­nom­i­na­tions.
    The re­search­ers used Sin­gle Pho­ton Emis­sion Com­put­ed To­mog­ra­phy, a type of scan in which a bit of a ra­di­o­ac­t­ive drug is in­jected in­to a vein. The scan­ner then makes de­tailed im­ages of tis­sues where cells take up the drug. The pro­cess can give in­for­ma­tion about blood flow and me­tab­o­lism.
    Here’s the link: