Monday, August 01, 2005

Final Observations on the misrepresentations of Bobby Welch and Steve Lemke

I stopped my evaluation of Steve Lemke's article (that Bobby Welch commended as a fine treatment of Calvinism and the Great Commission) primarily because the kinds of historical and theological mistakes that it contains tend to be repeated throughout the remainder of the 4th part of his paper. Others have sufficiently debunked his statistical musings. His treatment of the altar call begs to be addressed...but I am resisting the temptation to do so (at least at this point). As I mentioned before, I take no delight in this kind of writing and wish it were not necessary. If scholars and denominational leaders would simply be more careful in their critiques of views with which they disagree, then there would be no need for this type of response. May the Lord help us all to do so.

Here are my summary thoughts on this matter.

1. The day of unquestioned assertions is over. With ready access to important primary sources the scholar's guild no longer should expect to make gratuitous assertions about historical and theological issues and expect them to be accepted on the mere basis of some kind of supposed scholarly authority. Twentyfive years ago a seminary professor could assert (as one of mine did) that "The Synod of Dort affirmed hyper-Calvinism," and not worry that too many people would be able immediately to refute him. Today, anyone with internet access can expose that falsehood in minutes. This is a good thing and should make everyone a more careful student, speaker and writer.


2. Those Southern Baptist employees whose salaries are paid by Southern Baptist churches should at least exercise care in how they characterize their employers. One of the major arguments of the conservative resurgence in the SBC was that it is immoral to expect Southern Baptists to keep paying the salaries of those who ridicule and and misrepresent the convictions of the churches who send their money to the cooperative program. The legitimacy of that argument has not lessened now that conservatives have replaced liberals in those offices of denominational service. As several of the comments on this blog have indicated, this kind of disrespect breeds distrust and frustration. Inaccurate and unjustified criticism of those who believe what the founders of the SBC believed about salvation will result in the disenfranchisement of many Southern Baptist pastors and churches.


3. The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention should recognize that many churches and pastors--especially younger pastors--in the convention are growing very weary of the lack of authenticity that comes through in their touting of numbers, largeness and programs. It smacks of triumphalism and a growing number are finding it increasingly off-putting. If SBC leadership wants everyone to jump up and down about the prospect of baptizing a million people in the next 12 months, then first convince us that you are willing to speak honestly about the ten million who have already been baptized but rarely, if ever, even show up on a Sunday morning in our churches. Get honest about our denominational statistics. Admit the truth, that we have far fewer disciples than we have baptisms, which means that we are baptizing a whole bunch of people who are not disciples. If that pattern is deemed acceptable to denominational leadership, then they at least should realize that it is not acceptable to many of us who are hold our Baptist convictions dear because we find them rooted in the Scripture. That is, many Southern Baptist pastors and churches genuinely believe in the baptism of diciples alone. Many of us still believe in a regenerate church membership as a principle of Baptist church life. The bloated statistics of the SBC are a veneer that conceals serious doctrinal and spiritual problems. It is time for Southern Baptists to drop the facade and to confront the problems directly, with humility and submission to the Word of God. This is not a Calvinist issue. This is a Christian and Baptist issue.

4. There is undoubtedly a growing doctrinal reformation afoot in the SBC. Despite the efforts of scandalous opponents like Baptistfire.com, this reformation continues to grow. Will Southern Baptist inerrantists who are not convinced that the theology of our denomination's founders is biblical be willing to accept those inerrantists who do? A few denominational leaders have stated that they are very glad to work with their fellow Southern Baptists who are reformed in theology (though these leaders themselves do not share that view). This spirit is commendable and helps generate the kind of trust and goodwill that promote genuine Christian unity. But in order for this trust and goodwill to grow, then those leaders must be willing to renounce serious and inflammatory misrepresentations of Calvinism and Calvinists such as Steve Lemke and Bobby Welch have promulgated.

For years people have said that "Calvinism is going to be the next big debate in the SBC." Lots of speculation has swirled about this question. I have no idea what will happen. But I do have an opinion on what could happen. If denominational employees and leaders continue to accuse Southern Baptist Calvinists of heresy, then the prospect of having a meaningful discussion over the issues will be seriously reduced.

18 comments:

Steve Weaver said...

Tom,

Thanks for your work on this issue. It seems you entered the blogsphere just at the right time in the providence of God!

I've also been hearing for a few years that "Calvinism is going to be the next big debate in the SBC." It seems to me that it will only be so, if the other side makes it an issue (as they seem to be trying to do). I'm not making it an issue! I'm happy to cooperate with non-Calvinists who believe in the proclamation of the gospel. In other words, I don't see it as Calvinists picking this fight. The other side is picking the fight. I don't want to fight (but I will stand for what I believe). I want to preach and teach what I believe to be true and I will choose what associations I can then have.

It is troubling that there seems to be a concerted effort among the SBC "leadership" (i.e., most prominent and influential preachers) to erradicate Calvinism. Every "Pastor's Conference" features an almost clearly orchestrated effort to shout down the Calvinists. The reason it seems so orchestrated is that it (denunciations of Calvinism) seem to be randomly inserted into a sermon (Exhibit A: Johnny Hunt's sermon at this year's SBC Pastor's Conference).

As a Baptist pastor committed to the Doctrines of Grace, I feel as if I am being told that I don't belong in this convention. I fear that many others are getting the same message. Maybe that's what they want. But it just doesn't make any sense to me.

Tom said...

Steve:

I agree with your assessment of this. I don't see Calvinists picking this fight, either. Whether or not there is a concerted effort, who knows? But it is easy to go the the convention and pastors' conference now with the question in your mind, "Well, I wonder who will take a shot at the doctrines of grace this year?" We no longer wonder if it will happen, but when and by whom.

Press on!

Tom

YnottonY said...

Perhaps those accusing Dortian Calvinists of Hyper-Calvinism need to consider how they would feel being associated with Open Theism. It would be equally unfair for Calvinists to accuse Arminians of Open Theism. There is a significant difference between them. If we (the Calvinists) were as equally unfair, then we would broadbrush all free willers as Open Theists. The theological opposite of Hyper-Calvinism is Open View Theism.

Further, Open View Theism undermines the doctrine of the infallibility of the autographa. If the original authors of the scriptures had libertarian free will, then no amount of divine superintendence can guarantee that what they wrote was without error. The non-Calvinist inerrantists in the SBC need to be mindful of this as they attack the compatiblistic version of divine providence.

It has been said that, “Accuracy is the twin brother of honesty; inaccuracy, of dishonesty.” Tryon Edwards, a descendent of the great preacher by the same name said, “Accuracy of statement is one of the first elements of truth; inaccuracy is a near kin to falsehood.” Ours is certainly not a day of theological precision! Oh that so called scholars would seek to be fair and precise in their studies, whether of scripture or with regard to church history! Such is required of a disciple of the King of Truth.

Tom said...

Tony,

Well put. Amen!

-ta

Kevin Hash said...

Tom,
Thanks for your work. I agree with a comment earlier, the time for this Blog is now.

Both sides need work if they are to coexist. Many young pastor friends and students who have quickly embraced the doctrines of Grace. Have not embraced the warmth and tact that you obviously have in discussing the issue.

All you have to do is check the blogs and you see some bold brash comments from us young bucks who mean well, but could be more respectful and God-honoring.

It would be great if you could blog about how we should carry ourselves in this journey. It is needed.

Question: Do you think there will be a move to push Mohler out at Southern?

GeneMBridges said...

I agree that it isn't the Calvinists who are looking for a fight over this issue. We're not the ones taking pot shots at the other side. Likewise, it seems difficult to accuse Calvinists of heresy if for no other reason than it invites the light of truth. It means they would have to send the Puritans and all the founders of the SBC in the same direction, not to mention modern evangelical Presbyterians, and a host of others with whom they cooperate every day. I, for one, welcome such charges if they are accompanied by real dialogue about what Scripture actually teaches. The sad thing is that the other side of the aisle seems intent about shutting down that dialogue. However, as I pointed out in other comments, good folks in the pews are finding out that they have been misled, and I know a few that will say they feel outright deceived by their own pastors and those like them. That's not good. It doesn't honor the Lord, His people, or the biblical mandate for the reputation pastors/elders are given.

If the Convention wishes to try to remove Al Mohler from SBTS they will have to show that he does not affirm the BFM 2000 and the SBTS Abstract of Principles. Honestly, it must really make the other side of aisle chaffe to know that they can prove neither of any Calvinist. That, in my opinion, is why they are attempting to use straw man argumentation from the pulpit and trying to conflate theology with utility. Like Tom has said, we must never ignore the 9th commandment when we do theology or talk to our brothers.

Bill Moore said...

Tom,

Allow me to add my thanks for your blog.

If the "next big debate" in the SBC is over Calvinism, I think that debate will be a strawman debate to cover the larger debate over pragmatism. "Whatever works" is the unspoken mantra. Get 'em down the aisle, get a decision, get 'em immersed, and add another number to the statistics.

Many are lamenting the decline or stagnation of baptisms as evidence of a lack of commitment to evangelism. Yet, what passes for evangelism in our churches is, I fear, another gospel.

For instance, in Bobby Welch's [i]SBC Life[/i] column, August 2005, the testimony of a choir member sharing the "gospel" with a cab driver during this year's SBC convention in Nashville is recounted. She writes, "I told him that we are all sinners and have fallen short of what the Lord wants for our lives, but that Jesus could change all of that and forgive him and never bring it up or remember it again. It would be just as if he had never sinned. I told him all he had to do was to admit that he was a sinner, ask God to forgive him, and receive Jesus into his heart by praying and asking Him. I also told him that he could do that on his own if he wanted. He said he would, and he hugged me again and drove off." Later, she called the cab driver and told him that she and her companions had been praying for him and "asked if he had prayed the prayer I had told him about." He replied, "Yes, I did. I pulled over in the hotel parking lot and prayed."

Did the man truly repent and believe on the crucified Christ who died in the place of believing sinners? I hope so. What is provided in the testimony, however, leaves much to be desired. Christ's work on the cross goes unmentioned, though it is certainly central to the gospel. Our having offended the thrice-holy God is only implied. However, the unbiblical "asking Jesus into your heart" is emphasized.

Am I just being persnickety? I hope not. What this lady presented as the gospel, unfortunately, is what passes for the good news too often in our pulpits and popular SBC media. Folks make decisions because something is out of sort in their lives, are immersed, and their pastors are paraded about as models of evangelistic pastors. BTW, check out the stats of their churches sometime. Multitudes are baptized, but worship attendance increases little, if any at all. Numerically, are we second only to the Roman Catholic Church in baptizing the unregenerate?

Bill

Andrew N. said...

Amen Brother Tom!

s.s. said...

Great analysis all the way around guys.
FWIW, a colleague who attends "mega metro" every other year or so told me a couple of years ago that the pragmatists (my terminology, not his) were all but planning for the "next controversy" to be over Calvinism. I don't find it coincidental at all that the most recent comments have come from "mega metro" pastors Hunt, Falwell, and Welch.

Tom said...

Kevin:

Being brash and unkind is a temptation that lurks in all of our hearts--at least it certainly does in mine. Speaking the truth in love must always be our goal. 1 Corinthians 13:2 ought to be tatooed on the back of our eyelids: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." To "understand all mysteries and all knowledge" is every Calvinist's dream! But even if that were granted, without love, we are nothing.

Here are a couple of articles that address this issue:

http://www.founders.org/FJ40/editorial.html

http://www.founders.org/FJ33/article3.html

Scott Slayton said...

Tom:
Thanks for your diligence in writing these responses. I pray that they fall on listening ears.

Steve Lemke said...

Tom and friends,

Thank you for the careful attention you have given to my paper, "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals." Because I have great personal appreciation for you and a number of other people involved in the Founder's Movement, it distress me greatly that you have found my comments to be so harmful or misguided. I really tried in the paper to express my concern as kindly as I could (i.e., I stated at some length my appreciation for some aspects of Calvinism, defended its legitimacy within Christianity and the Baptist tradition, insisted that some Calvinists were very evangelistic, and brought out the wide variety of positions within Calvinism to make clear that my remarks did not apply to all Calvinists), but I obviously failed in that attempt, and for that I am truly sorry.
It probably goes without saying that the fact that most people were introduced to my paper through President Welch's comments very much shaped the way they read my paper. However, my paper was not primarily about Calvinism or the Founders Movement -- they weren't even the main thrust of the paper. The reason that I did not attempt to provide a scholarly theological critique of Calvinism or the Founders Movement (as some seem to think I was attempting to do) is simply because it was not the purpose of my paper. My topic of "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals" was assigned by the leaders of the "Maintaining Baptist Distinctives" conference at MABTS, and my paper raised concerns about numerous areas of Southern Baptist life. The only reason that the Founders Fellowship was mentioned at all in the paper was that it provided a self-identified group of fairly strong Calvinist Baptist churches, which facilitated a statistical comparison between Founders Fellowship churches and the average SBC church. I did this to avoid merely repeating the rag that hard Calvinism might limit evangelism and missions without some hard evidence. I consider myself a soft Calvinist, and probably my best-known sermon is a defense of the security of the believer. As I mentioned in the paper, Dr. Kelley and I have brought more Calvinists on our faculty at NOBTS than at any time in our history. I say those things just to say that I am interested in balance, and I'm far from a rabid antiCalvinist. I certainly didn't accuse anyone of heresy. I value you as brothers in Christ. I do think it's important for brothers in Christ to have the freedom to voice different perspectives on issues and heartfelt concerns, but I apologize to those who felt I misrepresented or caricatured them. That was not my intention.
I have profited from the many critiques, commentaries, and criticisms of my paper in your blog and others. I agree with a number of points that have been made, especially concerning the need for better discipleship of those who are baptized and a more meaningful church membership (a point I made in the paper). I also have come to believe that the term "hyperCalvinism" is just too controversial and understood to mean too many different things to different people to be very useful in the discussion. I do think that some of the critiques were overreactions or misunderstandings of what I was trying to say (for example, several seemed to focus so much on my illustrations about dancing and drinking that they missed the point I was making -- my worry that we're compromising with the world too much in our lifestyles), but these critiques are just too many and it would require more time than I can give them to respond to them all.
The primary concern that I voiced in the paper was that Southern Baptists give the priority to evangelism and missions that the Great Commission commands and that we practiced in the past. My hope and prayer would be that we as Baptists could rediscover the passion for evangelism that the early church had, that brought a tremendous harvest across the Western world in the first century. May God do it again today!
Steve Lemke

Bill Moore said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bill Moore said...

I appreciate the spirit of Dr. Lemke's comment above. Still, I contend that our greatest need as Southern Baptists is not rediscovering a passion for evangelism but rediscovering the gospel. Is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ one which changes lives for the glory of God? Does not that change mean at the minimum that the person who professes to have believed on Christ would find his place in corporate worship on the Lord's Day? And yet the sad reality is that most of those who are baptized do not engage in the easiest activity in the Christian life---attending worship.

The popular gospel neglects the holiness of God, the necessity of repentance, and the emphasis of Christ's active and passive obedience. The popular gospel is "me-centered," a way to get out of the mess I've made of my life, a procedure to calm my concerns about destiny after death, a response to some tragedy in my life, etc.

A recovery of the biblical gospel may result in fewer baptisms, but it will result in a stronger denomination, one marked by godly disciples and no longer marked by inflated statistics.

I mean not to be harsh or arrogant, but I believe the very gospel is at stake.

Bill

Anonymous said...

Count me among those that have become very weary of the Convention and question whether or not its worth remaining within.

The lack of authenticity you describe, the obsession with numbers (especially big numbers), the good-old-boy/crony network that makes all the decisions top-down, the bloated bureacracies, the apparent preference for pragmatic methods over theology, the deep flirtation with Republican politics.....

Pistis said...

Calvinism is the most despicable and hideous blasphmeny that man, in his carnal state, has been able to generate.

Calvin was a dictator, a murderer, a maligner, slanderer and libeler of Almighty God. How anyone who has even a cursory knowldege of the Bible can "honor" or "respect" this man and his evil doctrines is well beyond imagination. It only proves how evil and depraved false teachers (believers and unbelievers alike) can be. If their avowed purposes were to further the "kingdom of Satan," at least they would be honest.

Calvinism is not worth debating. It can be debunked in a few well-written pages. In its entirety, it besmearches and villifies the Name and Grace of God. Please do not refer to your heresies as "Doctrines of Grace." More like doctrines of demons.

Look for my pamphlet "Calvinism Debunked." It will be short and to the point.

Pistis said...

Calvinism is the most despicable and hideous blasphmeny that man, in his carnal state, has been able to generate.

Calvin was a dictator, a murderer, a maligner, slanderer and libeler of Almighty God. How anyone who has even a cursory knowldege of the Bible can "honor" or "respect" this man and his evil doctrines is well beyond imagination. It only proves how evil and depraved false teachers (believers and unbelievers alike) can be. If their avowed purposes were to further the "kingdom of Satan," at least they would be honest.

Calvinism is not worth debating. It can be debunked in a few well-written pages. In its entirety, it besmearches and villifies the Name and Grace of God. Please do not refer to your heresies as "Doctrines of Grace." More like doctrines of demons.

Look for my pamphlet "Calvinism Debunked." It will be short and to the point.

Pistis said...

Calvinism is the most despicable and hideous blasphmeny that man, in his carnal state, has been able to generate.

Calvin was a dictator, a murderer, a maligner, slanderer and libeler of Almighty God. How anyone who has even a cursory knowldege of the Bible can "honor" or "respect" this man and his evil doctrines is well beyond imagination. It only proves how evil and depraved false teachers (believers and unbelievers alike) can be. If their avowed purposes were to further the "kingdom of Satan," at least they would be honest.

Calvinism is not worth debating. It can be debunked in a few well-written pages. In its entirety, it besmearches and villifies the Name and Grace of God. Please do not refer to your heresies as "Doctrines of Grace." More like doctrines of demons.

Look for my pamphlet "Calvinism Debunked." It will be short and to the point.