Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Woodstock, Georgia delivered a rousing sermon at this years Pastor’s Conference, preceding the annual Southern Baptist Convention. Hunt has become a staple of the conference. His contagious enthusiasm, pastor’s heart, and compelling testimony makes him a favorite among many. I’ve only heard a handful of sermons, but I enjoy him every time I hear him preach. This year a few of his comments raised some concern. I’ll address one of them here.
You can listen to a short 54 second clip: johnny_hunt_on_election.mp3. He said,
By the way, arn’t you grateful, that there’s hope? Listen to me carefully, its important we understand this convention. There’s hope for everyone in Jesus. Everyone. Everyone. Not a select group. Everyone.
Someone says, ‘Pastor you believe that you’re the elect?’ I sure am. Everybody that gets in is the elect; and he’s elected all of us. I believe everyone can be saved. Anyone can come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Someone said, “I don’t think you ought to preach like that.” Well, I just hope no one gets saved that’s not supposed to.
I’m serious. We better get away from that and get back to the book and invite everyone to come to Christ! Just preach it! Invite everybody! Tell everyone!
I wholeheartedly agree with his concluding insistence that we must share the gospel with everyone. We ought to proclaim the good news of God’s saving grace to all people, without exception. Nowhere in scripture, that I know of, does the Bible give us a mandate to limit the scope of our evangelistic efforts. If hunt wanted to make that point, he could have done so without clouding the issue with theological misdirection.
Hunt begins this segment by saying, “listen to me carefully.” At the risk of being labeled nit-picky, I will heed his request and take his statements line by line. In a solemn tone he tells us that he has something for the convention that he believes “important we understand.” With that build up, I thought he would give some clear solid statement that would emphasize some important biblical truth. Instead he launches into a emotional rant that perpetuates a distortion of the doctrines of grace and breeds prejudicial theological misunderstanding.
His rally cry, “there’s hope for everyone” sounds orthodox enough, but in fact runs counter to biblical doctrine. The Apostle Paul spoke of those who have “no hope”
(Ephesians 2:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Even the best known scripture passage of God’s word affirms this truth. ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Who has eternal life? Everyone? Everyone; or only those who believe? The Bible clearly teaches that only those who believe will inherit eternal life.
To Hunt’s credit, he does qualify his assertion that “there is hope for everyone” by adding “in Jesus.” I agree. there is hope for everyone in Jesus. Taken alone that statement rings with biblical truth, however his next statement undercuts his affirmation. With rhetorical flair he adds, “Everyone. Everyone. Not a select group. Everyone.” He muddies the water with this self contradiction. Does Hunt believe that there is hope for everyone or hope only for a select group, i.e. those in Christ? Hunt says “Everyone. Not a select group.” The resounding “amens” from the congregation drowned out the sound of his statements deconstructing themselves.
Although this first lack of theological precision could have gone unnoticed if taken by itself, in the context of his direct reference to election, no one could miss his real motivation and target. He took aim at those within the Southern Baptist Convention who hold to the doctrines of grace.
His next line pictures someone coming to him as their pastor asking about the doctrine of election. They ask, “Pastor you believe that you’re the elect?” He answers, “I sure am.” So far, so good. By accepting the label of “elect” he places himself in good company. Jesus called his followers, “the elect” (Matthew 24:22-24, Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:20, Mark 13:22, Mark 13:27, Luke 18:7 ). The apostle Paul refers to those justified by Christ as “the elect” (Romans 8:33), he speaks of “the elect” in contrast to those who have been hardened (Romans 11:7), and those who “obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus” are “the elect” 2 Timothy 2:10. Peter likewise writes to believers and calls them “the elect” (1 Peter 1:1).
After accepting the “title of “elect,” Hunt adds another two part sentence that should have sent any thoughtful Christian’s head spinning. He said, “Everybody that gets in is the elect; and he’s elected all of us.” I had to wait until the SBC webmaster posted the sermon archive to make sure I heard him correctly. “Everybody that gets in is the elect; and he’s elected all of us.” If all the elect “get in” (a truth we would affirm) then what can we make of his qualification that God has “elected all of us?” Hunt does not define who “all of us” means. Does he mean all believers or does he mean all human beings without exception? If he means all believers, then he contradicts his own diatribe against election of a “select group.” If he means all human beings without exception, then he places himself within the universalist camp. Either way his words present gross theological problems. Unphased the pastors in the audience commend him with applause and shouts of AMEN!”
Hunt continues, “Anyone can come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” This statement stands in direct conflict with Jesus’ words, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65) I’m not sure if Hunt intended to promote a Pelagian man centered gospel that denies the doctrine of human inability with this statement, but that’s the way it comes across in context. People do not come to Christ on their own power and initiative. They only come as a result of being effectually drawn by the Holy Spirit. As we share the gospel with everyone, God must work in the hearers heart. Human beings do not possess the power or the desire to open their own blind eyes, only God can breathe new life into a dead sinner. (John 6:44, John 6:65, Ephesians 2:4-5, Romans 8:3)
Hunt goes on to ridicule the Biblical doctrine of election by saying, “Someone said, ‘I don’t think you ought to preach like that.’ Well, I just hope no one gets saved that’s not supposed to.” Judging from the audiences’ eruption of laughter his attempt to be cute succeeded. Although he qualifies the remark with, “I’m serious,” I do not know how to take his comment other than sophomoric mockery.
He concludes, “We better get away from that and get back to the book and invite everyone to come to Christ! Just preach it! Invite everybody! Tell everyone!” I have to say “amen and amen” the the last part there where he exhorts us to “invite everyone to come to Christ! Just preach it! Invite everybody! Tell everyone!” I have no problem with repeating that call loud and strong. In fact, I feel that we as Southern Baptists need to start modeling evangelism from the pulpit instead of just trying to motivate people to sign up for programs. Perhaps if we actually did get back to the book, instead of just using it as a rally cry, we would open its pages and rediscover the doctrines of grace.
When Hunt instructs his hearers to get away from the doctrine of God’s sovereign electing grace, and get back to the book he fails to realize that the book itself proclaims the doctrine. Its like telling a chef to get away from food and start preparing meals. With Southern Baptist’s renewed commitment to the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of scripture, some of us can not get away from believing the truths the Bible itself proclaims.
Hunt must feel that the doctrine of election somehow conflicts with our gospel mandate to proclaim the gospel to everyone. It doesn’t. God has not branded every elect person with some sort of visible mark. We do not limit our evangelistic efforts to only those who we feel may be elect. We have no way of knowing who God has elected before the foundation of the world. The only sure way to know is to preach the gospel indiscriminantly to all people. Those who turn to Christ in faith, embrace Christ as their all satisfying treasure and persevere to the end are the elect.
Take for example Paul and Barnabas’s mission trip to Antioch of Pisidia in Acts 13:13-52. The team modeled for us an evangelistic strategy of sharing the gospel to all people. They didn’t limit their message only to Jews, but spread the word to the Gentiles as well. Some rejoiced in the message they heard, glorified God, and believed.. Others tried to kill them and ran them out of town. Luke does not leave us guessing the purpose of the two different reactions. “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) The doctrine of election doesn’t negate evangelism, it ensures its success. God has elected “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” (Revelation 7:9) Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37) God not only ordains the ends, but also ordains the means. God has ordained the means of evangelism to call the elect to himself. (Romans 10:13-15)
The last time I posted a critique of someone’s sermon (Joel Osteen), I got blasted for being unkind, unloving, and ungracious. I want to make it clear – I love Johnny Hunt. I think he is an excellent man, an engaging preacher, a wonderful pastor, a motivating leader, a dedicated Christian, and a righteous zealot for souls. I post this rebuttal, only because I feel his careless words at the pastor’s conference serve to undermine the very Biblical doctrines our convention once held dear. I see no reason to mischaracterize and distort the doctrines of grace on which our solid hope of evangelism rests. I would love nothing more than to see Southern Baptists “witness, win, and baptize one million” this coming year, but let’s do it with theological integrity and Biblical accuracy for the glory of God. Lets build our evangelism on a clear articulation of Bible truth. Let’s point to Christ as the only hope for sinners. Lets burn with a passion for the supremacy of Christ over all things for the joy of all people. Let’s anchor our evangelism in the assurance that our Lord and King will accomplish great things for his glory through our uncompromised unequivocal unrelenting proclamation of the good news of God’s overcoming sovereign grace.