Sometimes the harder decision to make is not how to respond but whether to respond at all. When NOBTS came out with the Fall edition of The Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry, I encountered such a dilemma. Dr. Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, has the lead article entitled, “What Is a Baptist? Nine Marks That Separate Baptists from Presbyterians” which warrants a response not only from Calvinists but Christians in general, for I contend that Lemke fails not only in the arena of scholarship but also in the practice of a Christian. As followers of Christ, we are called to “speak the truth in love,” and having read his article several times, I fail to find a commitment both to Christian love and biblical truth.
In the days ahead, I plan on responding to Lemke’s article, not because I believe he will be convinced of his errors, but because as Christians first and Southern Baptists second, the standard we set for one another, whether it is on a blog or in a journal, should be higher than what we are seeing today. I am persuaded that any fair-minded reader, Calvinist or not, will find Lemke’s treatment on this subject simply unacceptable, even if it is couched in a scholarly journal.
For those of you who have read my blog for any length of time know that I am not unfamiliar with the caricatures, careless rhetoric, and conspiratorial agendas of Baptist non-Calvinists (I use that term because non-Calvinist identify themselves by what they are not rather than what they are for). I have documented articles, messages, and blogposts that span over a decade, and apparently those same caricatures, attacks, and divisive agendas continue today despite the dismal ecclesiological landscape across the SBC. Unfortunately, the merits of Calvinism often fail to be addressed due to the demerits of unChristian approaches to the topic.
Johnny Hunt, current President of the Southern Baptist Convention, was one of the men who led several years ago but has since stopped the campaign (as far as I know) against Calvinism (or at least misrepresenting it), and in the spirit of his call for peace among brethren, unity in the mission, and a passion for the Gospel, I urge other Southern Baptist leaders to reject and denounce such tomfoolery at the expense of Christian charity and biblical clarity. Incidentally enough, Lemke advertises in the same journal the upcoming John 3:16 Conference where non-Calvinists will be addressing “five-point Calvinism.” Lemke himself will be speaking on “irresistible grace” – a doctrine which he misrepresents in his current article. If Lemke’s approach, inaccuracy, and scholarship is any indication or foretaste of what the John 3:16 Conference will turn into, this will be one giant leap into the wrong direction for Southern Baptists.
Lemke has been corrected both in private and in public on his errors regarding Calvinism. His first article, “The Future of Southern Baptist as Evangelicals“, attempts to make the case for “hyper-Calvinism” in the SBC. Drs. Tom Ascol (here, here, and here) and Ray Van Neste (here) have responded to Lemke’s errors, but apparently Lemke continues to assert such errors. Half of the current article, I should mention, is nothing but a word-for-word regurgitation of the older article, except that “hyper-Calvinism” has been removed. So three years later, we get the same thing. I know that if one of my professors saw that I had incorrectly cited sources, made assertions about people without footnoted verification, misrepresented the positions of others, or copy and pasted an old paper into a current one, it would have immediately been returned to me as unacceptable–and yet Lemke manages to do all of these in one article. Whether it was questioning the journalistic integrity of Collin Hansen, the re-wording of Timothy George’s ROSES, the outright distortion of Bethlehem Baptist Church’s position on church membership and baptism, the smearing of Calvinists in attempt to “classify” them, misunderstanding of Presbyterian beliefs on infant baptism vs. infant salvation, or the poor treatment of Al Mohler’s theological triage, Lemke has shown an unwillingness to deal accurately with the facts and charitably with those whom he disagrees. And because of that, I chosen to respond as a Christian, and yes, who happens to believe in the doctrines of grace.
In both his articles, Lemke writes the following:
“There would appear to be a strong possibility that the Southern Baptist Convention may become embroiled in what could be called the ‘Battle of Geneva.’ Calvinism could be the most explosive and divisive issue facing us in the near future. This issue has already split literally dozens of churches, and it holds the potential to split the entire Convention.”
Let’s give credit where credit is due. It is not the Calvinists but the non-Calvinists who continued to use the language Lemke describes above. Whether it is Nelson Price calling evangelical Calvinism an oxymoron, Ergun Caner calling Calvinists “worse than Muslims,” the late Jerry Falwell calling limited atonement a “heresy,” or the typical sound referring to a nebulous group of Calvinists who are “extreme, hyper, and agressive,” this language befits those who consider Calvinism, as Jerry Vines does, a “Baptist Battle.” At one moment, Lemke says that “Calvinism is a valid expression of the Christian faith and of the Baptist tradition,” but just a few pages later he says that “Southern Baptists have always tolerated five-point Calvinism.” Is the attitude of tolerating “a valid expression of the Christian faith and of the Baptist tradition” commendable? The fact is, they are wanting a Battle of Geneva. Calvinists are not. Calvinists only want to stop the smears and hold fast the the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
There is a movement going on today in the SBC focusing on a “Great Commission Resurgence” focusing on the centrality of the gospel and the priority of the mission in our lives and in our churches. This is perhaps the most encouraging development in my lifetime as a Baptist (I was born in 1979 at the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence). On the other hand, there are the sad chronicles of failed attempts to excommunicate Calvinists from the Southern Baptist family. I believe we should all be building bridges, not tearing them down. And yes, it begins with being the bridge to other people who are not like you or don’t think the same way you do. On this account, I wish that Lemke this time around would have heeded that call and sought for the unity Jesus prayed for among His people. We can strongly disagree, but we cannot do so unlovingly or at the expense the truth. We need good scholarship that holds fast to the truth, but we need more than that, we need Christian scholarship that does so in the spirit and humility of Christ.
* The Resurgence of Steve Lemke’s Argument Against Calvinism
* Tom Ascol’s Response to Dr. Steve Lemke, Part 1
* Tom Ascol’s Response to Dr. Steve Lemke, Part 2
* Tom Ascol’s Response to Dr. Steve Lemke, Part 3
* Ray Van Neste’s Response to Dr. Steve Lemke
* Joe Thorn’s Response to Dr. Steve. Lemke
* John 3:16 for Everyone