My coffee mug was in the cup holder of my truck as I drove through the dark, early, Monday morning streets of Virginia on the way to the airport. It would be quite a day of travel, but it would end on a pew that evening at Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in La Mirada, California. I, a pastor from Virginia, was headed out to California for the Southern California Reformed Baptist Pastors’ Conference 2015 (SCRBPC15). It was worth the journey! The theme of this year's conference was "The Doctrine of God" led by keynote speaker, Dr. James Dolezal. The vision for SCRBPC is "...the edification of confessional Reformed Baptist pastors and other interested men who are in the ministry or training for the ministry. The SCRBPC will function within the theological framework of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (2nd LCF) and The Baptist Catechism (BC)." Over the last few years, this conference has grown from a couple dozen brothers, to this year's 125+ registrants, several of whom like myself, traveled from outside California to attend. This year's conference did not disappoint. Among those to be commended is the host church, Trinity Reformed Baptist, and the many brothers like Richard Barcellos, who worked tirelessly to put the conference together. The fellowship was a blessing, the food was wonderful, and the meat of the session lectures was phenomenal.
The conference began with an opening lecture by Dr. Jim Renihan on The Foundation of our Communion and Comfortable Dependence on God and focused on the helpful summary reminder from the Baptist Confession (1677/89) which reads that the "...doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him (LBCF 1689, 2.3)." Jim opened with this theological and pastoral theme. Jim, a mentor to so many Reformed Baptist men over the last few decades, led with humility as we considered the confessional implications to theology proper. Following this, there were several Q&A sessions, and five plenary sessions by Dr. James Dolezal. Each of these mind-stretching, and soul-nourishing lectures was overflowing with meat. Our plates were full over these two days so to speak. Dolezal, who wrote his PhD dissertation on Divine Simplicity, led us in considering how we think about God ontologically. However, the allowance for 'mystery' was a large part of our discussion. We first considered The State of Theology Proper in Evangelicalism, specifically, Calvinistic Evangelicalism, and Dolezal charted a course for the conference in considering Classical Theism vs. what he terms "Theistic Personalism.” This is a prevailing type of view in evangelicalism today that advertently or inadvertently allows for some changes in God which divert away from the classically-held view of God within theology proper. With the Confession in view, and often times opened alongside our Bibles, our discussion involved a Systematic, Historical and Biblical theological look at the essence of God.
In the second lecture, Dolezal led us to consider the long-held doctrine of Divine Simplicity, and its implications. Some take-aways from this lecture were thoughts like (and I summarize): "God's attributes ARE God, not constituent parts (wisdom, justice, love, etc.) These ARE God, they are not parts of God...", "God is not composed of parts, because being composed of parts requires dependence on those parts to be, ontologically...", "Simplicity and Trinity: Simplicity keeps the Trinity from becoming Tri-theism." A helpful part of this discussion is the reality that we as humans cannot fully comprehend Divine Simplicity, and we live as it were, on this side of "refracted glory". As a part of this discussion, some modern day views were critiqued in light of the classical, and I would add, confessional understanding of the Doctrine of God. The last three lectures included further discussion regarding simplicity, the eternality of God, Divine impassibility and Immutability and ended with the doctrine of the Trinity. Dolezal, a gifted teacher, both in content and in application, led the attendees in the adoration of our God. This was not the exercise of the academic looking to define the indefinable and postulate scholarly "rightness", this was the attempt of the spiritual child, seeking with joy, to delight in something much beyond his or her ability to understand. Scholarly it was, but its direction was the adoration of God. Many sessions, I left with my mind stretched, my heart enlarged, and my ministerial resolve strengthened.
A topic of discussion in the Q&A sessions was the Doctrine of Divine Impassibility, which is confessionally expressed as God being, "without body, parts, or passions" (LBCF 1689 2.1). Samuel Renihan participated in this part given his two recent books on the topic, one of which is a very helpful primer entitled "God Without Passions". For me, a pastor from the other side of the country, this visit was well worth the journey. Not only did I walk away with new friends and theological discussion partners, I walked away with a hunger to study more, to seek to lead my people in a discussion of this vital doctrine, and I have, since the conference, found myself musing, like a babbling child who struggles to find words, on the God Who calls Himself "I AM". Some may say that this topic is either picking at straws, or is not practical, and yet isn't our goal as Christians, and as pastors, to grow and to lead others in growing in the knowledge of God? This was not a "how to grow your church in 30 days" type of conference, rather this was a "consider the vastness of our incomprehensible, transcendent, and immanent God" type of conference. As Dolezal would say, we cannot say we know everything about God, but we must not declare God to be what He is not. He is not a God who "became" Creator, but rather He is the Eternal Creator. He is not a God Who experiences changes because of relationship to man. He is not a God who experiences anger one minute, and then shifts to love or mercy the next. No, in Him, "there is not shadow of turning...” Rather than picking at theological straws, we rejoiced that we have a God who does not change, and because of this "...we are not consumed" (Malachi 3:6). Consider listening to the lectures when they are available (http://scrbpc.org), or check into the three available books connected to the topic at (http://www.rbap.net).
I am already looking forward to the time in 2016, when Lord willing, a discussion of God's Decree (LBCF Chapter 3) will occur. I landed late on Wednesday night, got back into my truck, and drove back to my own context, family and people so grateful that I had been led so richly in a time of considering the one true God. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:36)