Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit preview: Interview with Sam Storms
Published April 5th, 2007 in
SBC, General Christian, Church.
In just three short weeks, the Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit will take place in Arlington, Texas. One of the featured speakers is Dr. Sam Storms. As a preview to the conference, I thought I would post an email interview in which I was privileged to participate with Dr. Storms. Some of it relates directly the confrence, but some deals with the SBC in general. I hope you enjoy it.
Here it is:
12 W: For those who don’t yet know you, can you tell us a little about yourself?
SS: Sure. I was born and raised in Oklahoma and was blessed to have Christian parents and a Christian sister. My parents led me to the Lord, although I’m not sure when I actually came to saving faith. I walked the aisle during a “revival” service at First Baptist Church in Shawnee. I was nine at the time, but I may well have come to faith before that.
During my teen years the only thing that mattered to me (sadly) was athletics. By the time I reached high school (in Duncan, Oklahoma) I was reduced to playing basketball and golf because of four major surgeries I had undergone. It was pretty clear that the Lord was re-directing me from athletics to ministry. I still had aspirations of playing golf professionally, but by the end of my freshman year at the University of Oklahoma I realized that a notoriously bad temper and a lack of skill made that highly unlikely.
I met my wife, Ann (to whom I’ve now been married 35 years), while at OU. We got married after our junior year in 1972. I attended Dallas Theological Seminary and received my Th.M. in Historical Theology there (1977). We were members at First Baptist in Dallas for the first year, having been drawn there by the preaching of W. A. Criswell. However, I soon left in order to fulfill requirements in church ministry for a class I was taking. Ironically, I ended up spending my final three years of seminary serving as interim pastor of a small Presbyterian church. I knew it was only temporary, as my baptistic convictions run quite deep!
I joined the pastoral staff at Believer’s Chapel in Dallas in 1977, a non-denominational Bible church. I served there for eight years, during which also I studied for my Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Dallas. I received my doctorate in 1984 and hoped to teach in a seminary, but the Lord had different plans. I took the position of Senior Pastor at Christ Community Church in Ardmore, Oklahoma, in 1985 (another non-denominational Bible church) and ministered there for eight years, until 1993.
It was in late 1987 into early 1988 that I underwent a major theological shift. I rejected cessationism and embraced the view that all spiritual gifts (even private prayer language!) are valid and available to the church today. This led eventually to my accepting a position with Metro Vineyard Fellowship in Kansas City. I served there for another seven years, primarily as Associate Pastor and President of Grace Training Center, our full-time Bible school. I left Kansas City in August of 2000 and accepted a position teaching theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. In August of 2004 I resigned at Wheaton and returned to Kansas City to establish Enjoying God Ministries.
My wife Ann and I have two daughters (Melanie and Joanna) and two grandsons.
One more personal element. Although we live in Kansas City and serve with Enjoying God Ministries, we are members of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, where your friend Wade Burleson is pastor.
Those who may want to read in more detail of my spiritual journey and especially how I’ve labored to integrate Word and Spirit in life and ministry can get my book, “Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist” (at www.SamStorms.com).
Could you give your academic credentials?
I have a B.A. in History from the University of Oklahoma, a Th.M. in Historical Theology from Dallas Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from the University of Texas at Dallas.
According to your pastor, you are a prolific writer. Could you give some of the books that you have written? What are you working on now?
I think I’m up to thirteen books, with two new ones coming out in the next 12 months. The ones that are still in print include “Pleasures Evermore: The Life-Changing Power of Enjoying God” (NavPress), “One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God” (Christian Focus), “Convergence: Spiritual Journeys of a Charismatic Calvinist” (Enjoying God Ministries), “The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts” (Regal), “The Singing God: Discover the Joy of Being Enjoyed by God” (Creation House). I’m also one of the four contributors to the book, “Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views” (Zondervan).
In February of this year, Crossway Publishers released my book, “Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election.” In July they will publish “Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’” Finally, in January or February of 2008 they will release “The Hope of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.”
I’m currently working on three more books: one on eschatology, one on experiencing the Spirit, and one that will consist of about 50 daily meditations on the seven letters of Revelation 2-3.
What is your experience with Southern Baptist life?
My roots are deep within the convention. My mother and father were members at Bellevue Baptist in Memphis after WW II, where my dad was a deacon and my mom served for a while as R. G. Lee’s secretary. As I noted above, we attended First Baptist in Dallas for a while, and then got involved in a number of other churches for the next thirty or so years. I’ve always been baptistic in theology (although I recently read a SWBTS professor who said that those who use the term “baptistic” are under the influence of postmodernism; go figure!), but the Lord has led me to serve in a variety of church contexts (including independent Bible, Plymouth Brethren, Vineyard, Anglican). As I said, we are now members at Emmanuel Baptist in Enid.
Within the Southern Baptist landscape right now, what issues do you see driving our mutual discussion? Is there an overarching issue that relates to all of the things abuzz in the Convention? If so, what is it?
The issues are much the same as they’ve been for generations. The things Christians disagree and argue about are fairly constant: the sovereignty of God and human responsibility, especially as it relates to evangelism and missions; the role of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts in particular; the role of women in ministry and leadership; eschatology, spontaneity vs. liturgy in worship, etc. These and a few other issues are almost always at the center of debate, not just among Baptists but across denominational lines.
The one thing these issues have in common is that none of them is central to the gospel itself. They are all, at best, secondary doctrines, or doctrines on which Christ-exalting, Bible-believing Christians can and often do disagree. Sadly, some question the evangelical credentials of anyone who might dare to differ with their view on Calvinism or whether miraculous gifts occur today or the timing of the rapture or the nature of the millennium.
But there is something else that is even more disturbing, and that is the angry and divisive dogmatism that is emerging over behavioral issues on which the Bible is either silent or leaves one’s decision in the realm of Christian freedom. Perhaps the greatest threat to unity and acceptance in the Church is the tendency to treat particular life-style and cultural preferences as though they were divine law. To be even more specific, it’s the tendency to constrict or reduce or narrow the boundaries of what is acceptable to God, either by demanding what the Bible doesn’t require or forbidding what the Bible clearly permits.
My experience has been that this is typically driven by one of three things: either an unjustified fear of being “spiritually contaminated” by too close contact with the surrounding culture, or an unbridled ambition to gain power over the lives of others, or a failure to believe and trust in the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ (or all three combined).
I’m concerned that in certain segments of the Convention there is a mindset reminiscent of the old “fundamentalism” that is characterized by isolationism, separatism, anti-intellectualism, cultural withdrawal, and a generally angry and judgmental attitude toward all those who dare to differ on these matters that quite simply don’t matter; at least they don’t matter nearly as much as whether or not you believe in the deity of Christ, his substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Whereas conservative evangelicalism has typically drawn the line on theological essentials, this more recent fundamentalism draws the line ever more narrowly on issues such as total abstinence vs. moderation in the use of alcohol, the degree of freedom and the role of affections in public worship, the legitimacy of so-called “private prayer language,” etc. Sadly, when one’s commitment to Christ and the authority of Scripture is judged on the basis of this latter group of issues, rather than the former, the situation is bleak indeed.
Where do you see the tension over Reformed theology going in the SBC?
If you have in mind agencies and institutions within the convention, I fear that we may see seminaries and colleges and other agencies drafting statements similar to the one by Southwestern Seminary concerning charismatic gifts and practices. But in this case it would be to eliminate and forbid from the faculty those who embrace five-point Calvinism, or conversely, four-point Arminianism (I can’t image any Southern Baptist agency or institution ever taking a stand against the doctrine of the security of the believer).
I hope this never happens. The healthiest and most instructive and edifying atmosphere in an educational institution is when both perspectives are fairly and objectively represented. I’m a five-point Calvinist but I’ve worked for years alongside colleagues who were five-point Arminians. I’ve found most of them to be Christ-loving, Bible-believing evangelicals that served only to enrich the educational experience.
As far as the Convention as a whole is concerned, I suspect that someone somewhere along the line will propose amending the BFM to exclude Calvinism. If that ever were to happen, I predict a significant exodus from Southern Baptist life of those whose convictions would prohibit them from affirming such a statement. That would be tragic. Short of that, I encourage both sides within the Convention to continue the pursuit of civil dialogue and biblically-based discussion.
The claim has been made, specifically by Dr. Malcolm Yarnell of SWBTS, that there is NO Biblical evidence for the existence of a “Private Prayer Language.” How do you respond? What Scriptures do you think are relevant to the discussion of such a claim?
I’ll be brief on this one, since I’ve written a couple of articles setting forth my view on tongues. I’ve also written more extensively on this in my book, “The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts” (Regal).
As I read 1 Corinthians 14, it seems clear that Paul advocated and personally practiced a “private” prayer life that entailed speaking in tongues. If he is thankful that he speaks in tongues more than all (14:18), yet declares that he rarely does so in the corporate meeting of the church (14:19; indeed, in the absence of interpretation he never would do so), one is forced to ask: Where is Paul praying in tongues? It can only be that this takes place in his “private” prayer closet (cf. also 14:28). Therefore, this practice is “private”.
It is certainly “prayer” because Paul calls it such on several occasions (1 Cor. 14:14-15). It is speech, of whatever sort it may be, directed to God (1 Cor. 14:2) in which he “gives thanks” (14:16) and, I assume, since it is “prayer,” petitions God, intercedes, praises (14:15), and whatever else one typically does when engaged in communication with God. Therefore, this practice is “private prayer”.
Is it “language”? Yes, if by “language” one means a form of communication. Whether tongues is always a human language un-learned by the speaker (which it isn’t, in my opinion) or also some form of heavenly or angelic dialect (which I believe it is), it is linguistic in nature. The Apostle Paul speaks of “various kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:10), indicating that the expression of this Spirit-induced ability may take any number of forms.
Certainly one is free to argue that the “private prayer language” described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is no longer valid today, having been designed by God solely for the church of the 1st century, but one can hardly deny that it was precisely that: a private prayer language. Of course, I don’t believe there is anything in the NT that would justify belief that tongues speech ceased with the passing of the apostles, but that is another issue entirely.
What do you say to the claim that the acceptance of a “Private Prayer Language” among our missionaries is allowing an influx of Pentecostal theology?
First, we need to define what is meant by “Pentecostal” theology. The word “Pentecostal” has traditionally been used solely of those churches, denominations, and theological practices that came out of the Azusa Street Revival at the turn of the previous century (most notably, but by no means restricted to, The Assemblies of God). “Pentecostalism” typically affirms three things of tongues speech: (1) it is the initial physical evidence of one having been baptized in the Holy Spirit (thus if one has not spoken in tongues one has not been Spirit-baptized); (2) there is a distinction between tongues as a “sign” (that accompanies Spirit baptism) and tongues as a “gift” (which is designed for one’s devotional experience); and (3) God desires for all Christians to receive the “gift” of tongues.
Those who embrace a modified “Charismatic” view or what some have called a “Third Wave” theology would reject all three of these points at the same time they believe that tongues is a valid gift for the body of Christ today. But like all other gifts it is sovereignly distributed by the Spirit to whomever he wishes. It is not a gift possessed by all. There is no basis for distinguishing tongues as “sign” from tongues as “gift,” although Third Wave folk (such as myself) acknowledge that tongues can be manifest in a number of ways or settings depending on context and intent. Finally, no single spiritual gift, not even tongues, proves anything other than that the Spirit has sovereignly chosen to bestow it. It is not an infallible or necessary sign that one is either “baptized” or “filled” with the Spirit.
The point of this is simply that I seriously doubt if there are many (any?) Southern Baptist missionaries who are advocating a “Pentecostal” perspective on tongues. They may well be in favor of a Third Wave perspective. Personally, I hope the IMB would allow the freedom for this view and practice to exist on the mission field. However, if someone on the field was insisting that all must speak in tongues or that those who do not have not been Spirit-baptized, this raises another issue that would need to be addressed. I don’t necessarily think that such a “Pentecostal” view should exclude someone from the foreign field, but my opinion on that would probably run counter to most Southern Baptists today. Still, I would hope if such a “Pentecostal” view emerged among SBC missionaries that careful and loving instruction would be provided in an effort to bring them into alignment with the teaching of Scripture. But as I said, I suspect my approach to this matter would very much be a minority position within the SBC.
How do you see the debate over moderation concerning the consumption of alcohol? Do you see a disparity in the approach to the alcohol issue and other issues under debate?
Honestly, I’m weary of this debate. Certainly anyone who embraces the authority of Scripture must denounce drunkenness. But I’ve never been persuaded in the least by the alleged “biblical” arguments for total abstinence. Having said that, I think total abstinence is a perfectly honorable and permissible practice to embrace. Any Christian is free to abstain from alcohol. But they aren’t free, in my opinion, to insist that others do the same. They are even less free to accuse those who drink in moderation of being sub-Christian. Abstinence per se is neither a sign of spiritual weakness nor of spiritual strength. Neither is one’s choice of moderation in the use of alcohol a sign of weakness or strength. Whether one totally abstains or drinks in moderation is simply irrelevant to Christian spirituality.
What are your thoughts on the Traditional church, the Missional church and the Emergent church?
That’s a huge question that warrants a dissertation! But I’ll keep my comments brief.
I’m glad to see that you distinguish between the Missional church and the Emergent church (some mistakenly equate them). Every church ought to be missional, if by that you mean that mission is what the church is and not simply one program that it pursues or funds. The church is by biblical definition and divine calling “sent” to the world, whether that world be across the street or across the ocean.
Sadly many conceive of “mission” as something a segment of the church does or as a program the church “funds” rather than as the very identity of what the whole church is.
My primary concern for the Traditional church is that its customs, rituals (yes, even Southern Baptist’s have rituals; they just don’t call them that), habits, and accepted patterns for ministry and worship are so deeply entrenched in the spiritual psyche of a people that the Bible itself is not allowed to critique what is done or provide direction for new expressions of life as the body of Christ.
There is also the potential threat of a Traditional church losing touch with the surrounding culture. They can often create a “fortress” mentality, circle the wagons, hunker down so to speak, and rarely engage with the developments in society or the unsaved who populate it.
Too often, in the name of tradition, freedom in worship is stifled, the power of the Spirit is suppressed, age old “doctrines” are immune from biblical scrutiny, and what makes people “feel comfortable” is the decisive factor in evaluating fresh proposals or efforts to reach the lost and more effectively communicate with the saved.
I have deep disagreements with the agenda of many (not necessarily all) in the Emergent church. People who want to know the specifics can go to my website (www.SamStorms.com) and click on Recommended. There is a seven part review of Don Carson’s book, “Becoming Conversant with Emergent” that should give them a pretty good idea of where I stand.
What concerns me most about Emergent isn’t the “style” of ministry or the use of “candles and couches” or the commitment to “relevance”. I believe we have to engage with culture if we are going to effectively communicate the gospel to it. What bothers me, though, is the tendency to minimize or, in some cases, altogether jettison the possibility of our knowing absolute truth as it is revealed in Scripture. Too many in Emergent give the impression that because we cannot (and never will) know revealed truth comprehensively or exhaustively that we cannot speak of “absolute truth” in any meaningful sense of the term. Thus they balk at any talk of doctrine or theological boundaries or the importance of identifying “heresy”. Expository preaching is set aside as “modernistic” and ideologically oppressive. This is a serious error that in the long run will threaten the uniqueness of Christianity and undermine our efforts to evangelize the lost.
Again, as I said, there’s so much that could be addressed on this point, but I should probably stop and suggest your readers take a look at my review of Carson’s book.
How serious is the divide within the SBC right now? Do you think it will survive? If it does survive, in what shape will it be?
The divide is certainly real. How serious it is, I’m not sure. There is an unmistakable presence of a “fundamentalist” mentality that I fear will become increasingly belligerent and narrow and critical of those who don’t “toe the line” on their cherished secondary and tertiary issues. I hope those in the Convention can unite on their commitment to the “Fundamentals” of the faith and build a cooperative and effective witness on that basis. But there is, sadly, always an element within any movement or group or denomination that is convinced that true spirituality will always look the same, act the same, worship the same, even when the Bible is either altogether silent on such matters or permits a freedom that such zealots find uncomfortable (if not dangerous).
Yes, the SBC will most certainly survive. But I dare not speculate on what form it will assume.
You are a featured speaker at the Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit later this month. What do you hope this conference will accomplish? How do you think the make up of the conference speakers will help achieve this?
Conferences are a strange thing. Too often they can become an escape from the routine rigors of Christian living. At other times people fall into the mistake of thinking that the spiritual “highs” of a conference are typical of what the Christian life in general is to be. But neither of these is necessary. We need to view a conference like this as an opportunity for honest and open dialogue on issues facing Baptists today. I have high hopes and great expectations for this time in Arlington. I think, if nothing else, it will reveal that there is room under SBC tent for both positions on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. More than that, I hope that cessationists in particular will recognize that their continuationist or charismatic brothers and sisters are as equally committed to the Great Commission and the authority of Scripture as they are.
The speakers represent virtually all possible positions. This is really unusual for a conference on the Spirit. Typically there is only one view that is promoted. There’s always a risk in doing it the way Dwight has chosen, but I think he made the right choice. Let’s pray that in the midst of what will undoubtedly be heated disagreement there will prevail a commitment to loving one another and exalting Christ. That’s certainly what the Spirit would want!