Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Steve Lemke's letter and my response

Dr. Lemke posted a letter to me and others in a comment on this blog. In order to highlight his gracious letter and my response, I am posting his letter and mine back to him in a fresh entry.

-Tom
*********************************************
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


Steve:

Thank you for your gracious response. I appreciate the the kind words you have used about Founders. I was introduced to your paper by Bobby Welch. However, I read the whole paper and tried to evaluate it on its own merits. I also appreciate the fact that you did differentiate between various stripes of Calvinism. What distressed me is the identification of Founders Ministries and those who identify with us as "hyper-Calvinistic." It is impossible for me not to be sensitive to this issue since that charge has been recklessly and harmfully leveled against us more times than I can number--often by Southern Baptist leaders and denominational servants. Their words have then been invoked in justifying every kind of godless activity imaginable in dealing with pastors and church members.

I recognize that your spirit is not at all like that and that you would never take engage in or countenance such treatment of pastors or church members with whom you disagree. However, your paper, in effect, draws a huge bull's eye on the backs of many people. It is almost inevitable that you will now be cited by some who will characterize a church or a pastor as hyper-Calvinistic because they have an appreciation for Founders Ministries.

"Hyper-Calvinism" is a good theological term--though not a good theology! It has a historically verifiable identity. I would discourage you from ceasing to use it, but would encourage you to be more precise in how you use it. Peter Toon's book and Curt Daniel's dissertation on John Gill and Hyper-Calvinism are good sources for tracing out the historical contexts and theological contours of this view. I would make one very sincere plea to you. Please add a footnote to your paper or publish some brief statement that clarifies your views on this. If you indeed do not believe that Founders Ministries in guilty of hyper-Calvinism, please make that known. By doing so you will be following the wisdom of King Ahasuerus in issuing a second decree that allowed the Jews to defend themselves from his unfortunate earlier decree. As I have indicated, I fear that if you do not, others will take your words and use them wrongly to slander and attack good men and churches.

I share your conviction that brothers should be able to disagree and engage in serious dialog about their disagreements without writing each other out of the kingdom. For this to happen we must be careful to use proper designations and representations of those with whom we disagree.

I greatly appreciate your last comments. We do need a deeper passion for evangelism. That is true of Calvinists, Arminians and everyone in between. But as I have hinted at in an earlier post today, in order for this to be the case, we must make sure that we have not lost the Gospel. There can be no evangelism--true evangelism--without the evangel. I have no doubt that you agree. This problem--which to my mind is huge, much bigger than anything we have written about thus far on this blog--transcends the Calvinism-Arminianism debates.

Thanks again for the spirit and content of your comments. May the Lord bless you and your ministry as you make Christ known.

11 comments:

Steve Weaver said...

Now that's the way I would like to see this discussion progress. Thanks Steve and Tom for your gracious spirits!

jthomas899 said...

I agree with Steve in sending a heart-felt thanks to Steve and Tom for their gracious spirits! They have held up a standard for all us to follow.

Jeff

Mark said...

Hello. Sorry to barge in here. I stumbled upon this site while searching for a book about the conservative reformation in the Southern Baptist Convention. A fellow blogger and friend of mine mentioned he would be interested in reading it. I read it a while back but I don't have it, as it was loaned to me by a pastor friend of mine. And I don't remember the actual title of it so it is hard to locate it on the net.

Incidently, he mentioned an interest in it because I mentioned I read it in the comment I made on my Post for today. Then I tried to tell him what i remembered of the book in the comments section of the same post.

Anyway, I am trying to find the book maybe at Amazon or somewhere so I can tell him where he can find it. Can anyone here help?

YnottonY said...

Hi Tom,

Earlier you posted the comments by the Synod of Dort regarding the sufficiency of Christ's death. Would you agree with Dort as over against Tom Nettles' limited sufficiency view (Equivalentism)?

Dort, as you know, explicitly says that no one dies for want of an atonement, and I believe they are right. Dort is incompatible with Nettles' limited sufficiency view.

The limited sufficiency view opens the door to the rejection of free offers (an aspect of Hyper-Calvinism), even though the adherent of this position may not take it that far. Usually the person holding to Equivalentism makes a seperation between the extent of the atonement and the extent of the offer of the gospel, but I believe John Bunyan was right. He said, "for the offer of the gospel cannot, with God's allowance, be offered any further than the death of Jesus Christ doth go; because if that be taken away, there is indeed no gospel, nor grace to be extended." (see chapter 9 in Reprobation Asserted)

I am not accusing Nettles or anyone of hyper-Calvinism, but there is a serious danger of that among those who hold to a strictly limited or commercial view of Christ's death. As Curt Daniel says in his lecture on High Calvinism, one enters hyper-Calvinism through the door of High Calvinism and Calvinistic Antinomianism.

For the above reasons, I am curious about what view the Founders hold regarding the sufficiency of Christ's death.

Thanks,
Tony

*I am ready to profess," says the famous Dr. Twisse, " and that, I
suppose, as out of the mouths of all our divines, that every one who hears the gospel, (without distinction between elect or reprobate,) is bound to believe that Christ died for him, so far as to procure both the pardon of his sins and the salvation of his soul, in case he believes and repents." Again, "As Peter could not have been saved, unless he had believed and repented, so Judas might have been saved, if he had done so." Again, "John iii.16, gives a fair light of exposition to those places where Christ is said to have died for the sins of the world; yea, of the whole world, to wit, in this
manner; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - Dr. Twisse, on "The Riches of God's Love to the
Vessels of Mercy," etc.

Greg Welty said...

Hi Tony,

I must confess I don't understand the relevance of this criticism. Why not make the same criticism of unconditional election, that it too "opens the door to the rejection of free offers"? Indeed, one could simply paraphrase Bunyan's concern thus:

"For the offer of the gospel cannot, with God's allowance, be offered any further than the eternal unconditional election of the Father doth go; because if that election be taken away, there is indeed no gospel, nor grace to be extended."

But no one would seriously argue that unconditional election "opens the door" to hyper-Calvinism. And yet I cannot see how Nettles' view of the atonement offers any restrictions that aren't *already* implied by unconditional election. I think the inference is dubious in both cases.

It seems to me that there is room for both Dordt and Nettles' views among Calvinistic Southern Baptists. Both of these views are accepted by many fine theologians and pastors, both past and present.

Thanks for letting me participate in the discussion!

YnottonY said...

Hi Dr. Welty,

The relevance of my criticism of Equivalentism and it’s commercialistic categories is a matter of historical theology. Hyper-Calvinists evolved into their position through High Calvinism and Calvinistic Antinomianism. The change in their thinking is gradual as they reason through a decretal system and debt payment ideas. This criticism of commercialism is nothing new. Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, and W. G. T. Shedd can be consulted for their refutations of pecuniary debt payment arguments. The limited sufficiency position is built on commercialistic categories. If there is really nothing in the atonement for the non-elect who are invited to partake of Christ’s flesh and blood, then how can that be a sincere or well-meant offer by God? There is no intrinsic limitation in the death that Christ died (as Dort affirms), contrary to the limited sufficiency position. The real limitation is in the efficacious decree to apply the death to the elect alone through the instrumentality of faith, but not in the death itself. The death is of infinite value. It’s absurd to limit that which is of infinite value (see Dabney’s work on the atonement). Not only is Christ’s death of infinite intrinsic value, but it is that by the very ordination of God. Also, the sufficiency is an appointed or intentional sufficiency for all men. It is on this basis that we can go out and indescriminately invite all mankind to eat of Christ’s flesh and drink his blood. The remedy is sufficient for all, just as the lifted up serpent was sufficient for all to look to and be healed (John 3:14).

Regarding your statement on unconditional election, there is a sense in which a distorted view of that can lead to the denial of offers (just as a distorted atonement view can do the same). JohnFlavel pointed this out. Calvinists are not denying any sense of conditionality in salvation, but only that there are no meritorious conditions. God does not choose anyone based on some foreseen virtue or merit, but his appointment unto life is through the secondary or instrumental cause of faith, not apart from the fulfillment of that condition.

Also, the secret or decretive will does not negate the revealed or preceptive will of God. The Hyper-Calvinist will reason that an unconditional election of some as the will of God must negate any other sense of God’s will. There can be no sense of complexity in God’s motives. Limited atonement (properly understood) is not a problem for free offers, but a strictly limited view can be, particularly of the kind that denies unlimited sufficiency.

You say that you “cannot see how Nettles' view of the atonement offers any restrictions that aren't *already* implied by unconditional election.” Well, I am not aware of the details of your own views (but I know about you through the interactions you have with others online, and through friends of mine at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary such as Doug Latham and Doug Blount), but it’s possible for some to think of God’s decretive will as the only real will of God. If that’s the case, then “unconditional election” (viewed as exhaustively explaining God’s will) can issue in the denial of the well-meant offer of the gospel. Thankfully, Calvinists have taught the distinction between the secret and revealed will of God. As Dabney says, "Say that God has no secret decretive will, and He wishes just what He commands and nothing more, and we represent Him as a Being whose desires are perpetually crossed and baffled: yeah, trampled on; the most harassed, embarrassed, and impotent Being in the universe. Deny the other part of our distinction (he means the preceptive will here), and you represent God as acquiescing in all the iniquities done on earth and in hell."

You say “It seems to me that there is room for both Dordt and Nettles' views among Calvinistic Southern Baptists. Both of these views are accepted by many fine theologians and pastors, both past and present.”

Did I say there isn’t room among Calvinistic Southern Baptists for both views? Doesn’t the above statement imply that I am somehow denying that? That’s not at all what I said or implied (straw man?). All I am saying is that Nettles’ view on sufficiency is significantly different from the teaching of Dort, and his Equivalentist views have largely (not exclusively) been associated with hyper-Calvinists. Equivalentism is a very strict view. It puts limitations in the death of Christ itself, not merely in the decretal design or intent.

You also say, "Both of these views are accepted by many fine theologians and pastors, both past and present.” I didn’t comment on the character of the men holding the views. However, there are not “many” men who hold to Equivalentism or limited sufficiency. They are a rare group, and Nettles is among them. This says nothing about his ability to pastor or his character. I am talking about beliefs and ideas.

I didn’t say that either 1) there is not room among Calvinistic Southern Baptists for the various views, or that 2) anyone holding a strict view is not a fine pastor or theologian.

My inquiry had to do with Tom’s views on sufficiency. He quoted the Synod of Dort (favorably it seemed), so I was curious if he agreed with it as over against Nettle’s view. That’s all. I want Tom and others to be aware of the differences, if they are not already. One thing is for sure: Nettles view is not that of Dort’s. That does not mean he is wrong, or that he is not a fine teacher/theologian. It’s just a statement regarding the implications of the law of non-contradiction on the matter.

Tom said...

Tony:

Tom and I disagree over the "sufficiency/efficiency" language as related to the atonement. You are correct in assessing that I find the Dortian description helpful. You are also correct that the fact that one holds to equivalentism does not make him against a free offer or a hyper-Calvinist. Certainly Dr. Nettles is a million miles from that error and is a conscientious evangelical Calvinist. He and I have had many discussions over our disagreements and I have grown to appreciate his keen desire to give full weight to the objective nature of the atonement in all its accomplishment though I have not been convinced that it is best to give up the language of Dort to do so. Also, I think the Dortian construct gives a clearer affirmation of the nature of the incarnation than doe the other view. This is not to say that Tom hedges at any point on the incarnation or that I would gulp at the objective accomplishment of the atonement. We simply disagree on the best way to think of and speak of the work of Christ on the cross in light of these realities.

The association of equivalentism to hyper-Calvinism in some ways is similar to the association of supralapsarianism with hyper-Calvinism. The former does not necessarily imply the latter but many who hold to the latter also hold to the former. Bunyan was a good supralapsarian himself.

I appreciate Greg's comments though I did not take yours to be any kind of criticism.

Blessings,
Tom

YnottonY said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks. I think your comparison between equivalentism, supralapsarianism and hyper-Calvinism is quite good, so I will be using it in the future ;-)

I concur with everything you said in your post. Thanks for the clarification.

Greg Welty said...

Hi Tony,

Whoa! :-) My rather brief posted comment has provoked a rather intense reply. There are a few matters that I'd like to address briefly.

You say:

My inquiry had to do with Tom's views on sufficiency. He quoted the Synod of Dort (favorably it seemed), so I was curious if he agreed with it as over against Nettle's view. That's all.

But that's not quite right. You were not merely curious about Tom Ascol's views. In addition to that entirely innocent query you made a fairly strong charge: "The limited sufficiency view opens the door to the rejection of free offers (an aspect of Hyper-Calvinism)" and "there is a serious danger of [hyper-Calvinism] among those who hold to a strictly limited or commercial view of Christ's death." It was that aspect of your posted comment that I was addressing. To repeat: I know of no argument for your claim here which wouldn't also be an argument that unconditional election opens the door to hyper-Calvinism. And again, the Bunyan paraphrase brings this out quite well. If the original Bunyan quote carries any weight with you, then so should the paraphrase. (BTW, all I'm doing here is repeating one of the moves Nettles himself makes in BHGAFHG p. 306, re: his parallels to unconditional election and effectual calling.) In this regard, I'd be interested in seeing if you reject the cogency of the Bunyan paraphrase I provided, and if so, why?

Thanks for your clarification that:

The relevance of my criticism of Equivalentism and it's commercialistic categories is a matter of historical theology.

I see now that we may have been operating off different trajectories, and I apologize for misreading your original comment. Please forgive me. I wasn't so much approaching the issue from the standpoint of historical theology, but from the standpoint of systematics, exegesis, and logic. Whatever tendencies have been exemplified in history, my point was that there is no good reason to think that something like Nettles' view gives someone any reason at all to be a hyper-Calvinist. My interest was in assessing the soundness of the actual argument from Nettles' view to hyper-Calvinism, not in whether people have historically bought into the argument (which I think is fallacious).

As for "commercialistic categories," well, I can't see how Nettles' argument somehow turns on those kind of categories any more than, say, legal or sacrificial categories. But again, just to reiterate my main response, you say:

The limited sufficiency position is built on commercialistic categories. If there is really nothing in the atonement for the non-elect who are invited to partake of Christ's flesh and blood, then how can that be a sincere or well-meant offer by God?

But again, one might as well ask: "The unconditional election position is built on quantitative categories (after all, it is a definite number who are unconditionally elected, and no more). If there is really nothing in the Father's election for the non-elect who are invited to believe unto salvation, then how can that be a sincere or well-meant offer by God?"

I take it that you agree with me that the above argument is completely fallacious, on any recognizable doctrine of unconditional election. It seems strange, then, to urge upon a fellow Calvinist an argument you yourself would reject in a parallel context. My point is directed specifically against those who accept unconditional election and to no others, but it is no less relevant for that, I think.

You say:

Regarding your statement on unconditional election, there is a sense in which a distorted view of that can lead to the denial of offers (just as a distorted atonement view can do the same).

But, of course, I wasn't appealing to "a distorted view" of unconditional election, but just the plain vanilla view you can find in the standard Reformed confessions (such as the 1689 LBCF). I submit to you that your argument against Nettles' view, if sound, would also support the conclusion that the confession leads to hyper-Calvinism. I find this disturbing.

You say:

God does not choose anyone based on some foreseen virtue or merit, but his appointment unto life is through the secondary or instrumental cause of faith, not apart from the fulfillment of that condition.

I don't see how this is at all relevant, since the Father's election unto faith is as particular as his election unto glory. So this isn't a true parallel to the Dordtian view of atonement, in which the sufficiency is general but the efficiency rests on particular individuals. No one would say that the decree of election is "sufficient for all" (because all are somehow hypothetically elected to faith) but "efficient only for the elect" (because only the elect are elected to glory).

You say:

Limited atonement (properly understood) is not a problem for free offers, but a strictly limited view can be, particularly of the kind that denies unlimited sufficiency.

But does not the doctrine of unconditional election "deny unlimited sufficiency"? Why then does it not undermine the free offer? What would it mean for God's decree, to elect some unto glory, to be "sufficient for all"? I can't put any sense on this construction. But then if it is not "sufficient for all" in any meaningful sense, does it thereby undermine the free offer of the gospel? God forbid!

You say that "it's possible for some to think of God's decretive will as the only real will of God." Well sure, it's possible! Just about anything is possible, historical theologically speaking :-) But that's not a good reason to say that a view "leads to" hyper-Calvinism or is a "serious danger" for those who embrace it. One might as well say that, since "it's possible" for some to think of God's ordination of his chosen ends as independent of his chosen means, that therefore divine sovereignty is a serious error that opens the door to the exclusion of evangelism. But the fact that such a miserable error is possible does little to undermine an acceptance of divine sovereignty, correct?

You say:

Did I say there isn't room among Calvinistic Southern Baptists for both views? Doesn't the above statement imply that I am somehow denying that? That's not at all what I said or implied (straw man?).

I think I'm going to have to disagree (in the friendliest way possible, of course :-). When you plainly state that Nettles' view "opens the door to the rejection of free offers (an aspect of Hyper-Calvinism)" and that among those who hold it "there is a serious danger" of hyper-Calvinism, then certainly a reasonable observer couldn't be faulted for inferring that this is a view we shouldn't countenance! Who wants to tolerate seriously dangerous views in our midst? :-)

You also say that:

there are not 'many' men who hold to Equivalentism or limited sufficiency. They are a rare group

But then if I read you correctly, you are warning about a "serious danger" that exists among a "rare group". Is this correct?

In closing, I want to stress that, for all my disagreeable blathering above :-), my motivation for briefly dropping into this discussion is for the sake of unity, not division. I don't want to see the Dordt vs. Nettles disagreement to be a point of division among Calvinistic Southern Baptists. And yet your very strong charge that Nettles' view opens the door to hyper-Calvinism and is a "serious danger" among people who hold it, left unchallenged, is calculated to lead to just that division. I find that somewhat ironic, in light of the Lemke paper that has been the focus of so much discussion.

YnottonY said...

Hi Dr. Welty,

Thanks for your reply. It seems more appropriate for us to discuss this topic in another context. I am willing to take our discussion to my blog if you would like. This way we can avoid multiplying words in Tom's blog. I already feel guilty for saying so much already, but I was the one who brought the issue up :-)

Let me know if you would like to continue to dialogue about this elsewhere, and I will provide a link to my blog asap.

Grace to you,
Tony

"That reprobate and deplorably wicked men do not receive it, is not through any defect in the grace of God, nor is it just, that, on account of of the children of perdition, it should lose the glory and title of universal redemption, since it is prepared for all, and all are called to it." Wolfgang Musculus Common Places, p. 151.

Greg Welty said...

Hi Tony,

I'm not sure I'll have time to pursue it over at your blog. Posting here just once has taken up much more time than I planned :-)

Let me end though on a positive note, just to make my position clear. I think that the Dordtian view of the atonement is an eminently authentic expression of Calvinistic theology, and I harbor no suspicion that it opens the door to Arminianism. On the other hand, I think those who hold to Nettles' view (or the 'Owenic' view) can consistently hold, as I enthusiastically do, to (1) the genuine, well-meant offer of mercy to all to whom it is preached, without exception; (2) the responsibility to evangelize all without exception; (3) the responsibility of all men without exception to repent and believe the gospel; and (4) the love of God for all men without exception. My main point -- and we can certainly have a friendly disagreement about this -- is that I don't think that the scope of the atonement is at all relevant to (1)-(4), even as I don't think that the scope of unconditional election is relevant either.

The above is not directed at you in particular. It's mainly for the sake of any onlookers who are waiting for the other shoe to drop :-)

If you want to put any further thoughts in an entry on your blog (http://theologicalmeditations.blogspot.com/), then I'd be happy to provide further commentary or clarification *if* I have the time :-) And feel free to be as critical of me as you like; it would be an honor to have *any* attention directed my way :-)