10/13/97 Sullivan 'ticked' about Godsey's views of Jesus

by Russell D. Moore , posted Monday, October 13, 1997 (21 years ago)

LOUISVILLE, Ky.(BP)--"I'm ticked at what some folks are saying about Jesus," said Florida Baptist Convention Executive Director John Sullivan in an Oct. 9 chapel address at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Countering the provocative views of Christ presented in a recent book, Sullivan challenged seminarians to confront a fast-changing culture by answering the biblical question: "Why did Jesus come?"

Alluding to recent controversy over R. Kirby Godsey's "When We Talk About God ... Let's Be Honest," Sullivan warned that the church must never "make Jesus less than Scripture reveals him to be."

While only referring to Godsey in his chapel message as "a Baptist college president," Sullivan confirmed in an interview following the address that Godsey was the focus of his critique.

Godsey, president of Mercer University, a college related to the Georgia Baptist Convention, has ignited a firestorm of controversy by calling into question the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, the exclusivity of the gospel and other key points of orthodoxy. A special Georgia Baptist Convention committee recently called Godsey's views "heresy," and among conservatives, Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. issued a response to Godsey, titled, "When We Talk About Heresy ... Let's Be Honest."

Sullivan expressed outrage at Godsey's dismissal -- as "clanging buckets of nonsense" -- of cardinal doctrines.

"If that had been written by a secular liberal press, I would not have been disturbed," he said. "But the fact that it is written by one who claims Baptist heritage and comes to the conclusion that the focus in the life of the church on Jesus Christ is nothing more than a bucket of myths, that the substitutionary death and the virgin birth has little value if any, I was absolutely appalled."

Sullivan pointed to far-reaching ramifications for theological downgrade in Baptist life. "Any distorted view of Jesus Christ means a distorted view of the cross," he thundered. "Any distorted view of the cross means distorted discipleship. Any distorted discipleship means a distorted church, and a distorted church will never change a distorted world."

Instead, Sullivan called the church to a renewed witness to "the incarnational miracle of God becoming flesh to dwell among us; of God coming through the virgin womb of Mary to live in the carpenter shop of Nazareth to declare his public ministry and to walk up the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha and there to die."

Preaching from 1 John 3:1-8, Sullivan said a key focus in the biblical understanding of Jesus is the destruction of the malevolent purposes of Satan. Sullivan said he has no patience with believers who excuse their persistent sin by claiming no ability to rein in its power over their lives. "Jesus came to untie that which Satan has bound us to," he asserted. "He came to put to death once and for all those things that are contrary to and counterproductive to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Key to a biblical understanding of the purpose of Jesus' coming is the absolute necessity of a Savior in light of the wickedness of human sin, Sullivan proclaimed.

"It is Jesus Christ and Christ alone that has come into this world to deal with my sin problem," he said. "I cannot handle it by myself. I cannot handle it through reading good positive books and doing positive things. I can only handle it in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Sullivan illustrated the importance of the substitutionary atonement of Christ by recalling his own 1955 conversion as an 18-year- old FBI employee in Washington D.C. "Since that day I have never been the same," he said. "He came to take away the penalty of my sin. He bears it upon himself ... . He cries, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' as he becomes my sin atonement and your sin atonement."

A weak and impotent Savior is not the biblical picture of Jesus, Sullivan asserted. As a young man struggling with a confusing call to ministry, Sullivan said he was brought to an overwhelming sense of the unrivaled lordship of Christ in a sermon by S.M. Lockridge at a 1969 evangelism conference in Dallas.

"Halfway through that sermon, Lockridge asked one of the most penetrating questions that had ever dwelt in my soul," Sullivan recounted. "If you tried to destroy the power of Jesus Christ, what would you use for power to destroy his power? For some, I am sure that was a rhetorical issue, but for me it was at the very heart of the issue of my struggle."

Scripture also points to a majestic unveiling of the conquering Christ at his second coming, Sullivan preached.

"Now, we can work it out in terms of the amillennial view or the premillennial view, or the postmillennial view, or I don't care if there is a millennial view," he continued. "But the one thing we cannot deny, however we come out of the doctrine of the second coming, ... written over all of that is the word 'victory.' Jesus Christ is coming in victory."

This uncompromising biblical message is the only antidote to a rootless and sin-infected generation, Sullivan contended. "All religion is either do or done, and Jesus Christ has already done it," he said. "And now it becomes our responsibility to say to a lost and dying world: Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father."

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