Steve Lemke on “Four Streams” of Calvinism, Part 1

Tim Brister —  October 3, 2008 — 5 Comments

As I mentioned in my previous post, in 2005, Lemke attempted to make the case for two streams of Calvinists in the SBC – “hard hyper-Calvinists” and a “softer Baptistic Calvinism.”  In 2008, those two labels have been replaced and expanded into four streams.  Before I interact with Lemke’s labeling, there are some a priori matters to bring up in this regard.

For the most part, labels are not helpful.  They are usually generic, over-simplified, and do not factor in the flexibility or fluidity of a movement.  For instance, the label “fundamentalist” is one that is used for Mark Driscoll and Bob Jones, and there are a whole lot of differences between the two!  Furthermore, labels are often used as a way of speaking from the perspective of an expert.  From the information provided by Lemke, one would be led to believe that he is an insider among Baptist Calvinists, that he, more than anyone else, is entitled and privileged to be the one who creates the labels and categorizes people accordingly.  But the fact is, Lemke is clearly unfamiliar with the Reformed Resurgence.  Simple fact checking reveals that he does not state the title of Founders Ministries correctly (he refers to it as Founder’s Movement) and also wrote that the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference “was held on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary campus” when in fact it was held at The Galt House in downtown Louisville.  The misinformation on such easily verifiable facts lead one to question whether Lemke is qualified to make such classifications about the “four streams” of Calvinism today in the SBC.

But Lemke’s stigmatizing of certain Calvinists is not an unfamiliar practice in the SBC.  Consider the similar comments of Jerry Vines, Frank Cox, and Johnny Hunt as I juxtapose them for you (all comments were made in 2008).

“I have had a number of friends who are five-point Calvinists.  I have had them preach in my church, and we have had fellowship together.  It hasn’t been a particular problem. . . . But there is a new, there is a new emphasis on Calvinism today that is militant, hostile, and aggressive, and it disrupts churches, and it kills evangelism.  That’s where the problem arises as I see it today.”
- Jerry Vines (source)

“Some of my dearest friends in life hold the Calvinist view. . . . They are not changing me, and I guess I am not changing them, but we love each other.  But there is a part of this new strain of Calvinism that I see in Southern Baptist life. . . . What I see in Southern Baptist life right now, there is a thing, I don’t know, for a lack of better word I would describe it as aggressive hyper-Calvinism, or hyper-Calvinism in an aggressive form.”
- Frank Cox (source)

“Some of my best friends are Calvinists.  They are men of great integrity; we have wonderful discussions; we have great debates; we have differences; but we have chosen to love one another and to say, ‘Let’s preach the gospel, and let’s let it fall where it will.’  But normally it is the hyper-Calvinists that is stirring the pot, who would actually move from discussion and debate to destruction . . ..”
- Johnny Hunt (source)

Do you see the talking points among the non-Calvinists?  I could provide you with several more, but these should suffice in showing the similarity between them.  I should add, however, that Vines stated in Hansen’s book that the “militant, hostile, and aggressive” Calvinists he is referring to includes Founders Ministries (Young, Restless, Reformed, 84).

But the irony behind the titles, labeling, and smearing of Calvinists is that these Southern Baptists will not “put their cards on the table” when it comes to their soteriology. “We are biblicists,” they say.  Or, “We’re Baptists.”  Well, the problem is that no one knows how a “biblicist” is defined, and a “baptist” is another category (ecclesiology) altogether.  Indeed, the non-Calvinists are defined by what they are not (against) rather than what they really believe (what they are for).  Imagine if Calvinists decided to come up with their own labels and use them to stigmatize these non-Calvinists.  What kind of response do you think they would get?

In any case, let’s begin with what Lemke has to say about his four streams.

1.  “Founder’s (sic) Movement Calvinists”

“Founder’s (sic) Movement Calvinists tend to look backward nostalgically to Calvinists of prior generations, to make their Calvinism the focal point of their ministries, to be rather assertive and defensive about their Calvinism, and to be less evangelistic than the average Southern Baptist church.  They primarily interact with and attend conferences with other Calvinists.”

I will address Lemke’s footnote about his “study” done on Founders-friendly churches at a later time, but let me simply address his categorization.  First, Lemke says that Founders Ministries is looking backward to Calvinists of prior generations.  The implication Lemke is making is that appreciating the influence, thinking, and ministries of men like James P. Boyce, Basil Manly Jr., John A. Broadus, Patrick H. Mell, John L. Dagg, and others is not something we should be grateful for.  Yet, looking back does much to prevent a chronological snobbery in our current age, helps us learn from them (both in their successes and failures), and causes us to consider how in God’s providence, we are standing on the shoulders of such giants today (I would recommend what Timothy George called “retrieval for the sake of renewal” which he shared in his address at the 2006 Baptist Identity Conference).  Now looking forward, consider the faces that represent the populous of Founders Ministries.  While indeed Founders does look back, it is also looking forward, investing in a generation of young ministers who are committed to the gospel and the church, which leads me to my second point.

Lemke argue that Founders Calvinists want “to make their Calvinism the focal point of their ministries.”  On the “About Us” page of Founders website, the purpose statement is the following:

The purpose of Founders Ministries is the recovery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reformation of local churches. We believe intrinsic to this recovery is the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace in their experiential application to the local church particularly in the areas of worship and witness. This is to be accomplished through a variety of means focusing on conferences and including publication, education, pastoral training and other opportunities consistent with the purpose. Each of the ministries will be developed with special attention to achieve a healthy integration of doctrine and devotion.

Our abiding concerns:
+ We desire to be orthodox without being obnoxious.
+ We want to be confessional, yet contemporary.
+ We are Southern Baptist, though not sectarian.
+ Our goal is to be doctrinally and devotionally balanced.

Regardless of whether it is the Founders Journal, the Founders blog, Founders Conferences, or whatever other criteria you want to use, what you find is that the assertion Lemke makes that Founders Calvinists “make their Calvinism the focal point of their ministries” is simply not true.  The recovery of the gospel and the reformation of local churches are central and foremost in the purpose of Founders Ministries, and any indication either statistical or anecdotally speaking, the Southern Baptist Convention is needing both.

In part 2 of my interaction with Lemke’s “four streams,” I will pick up with the other three “streams” and offer an alternative point-of-view.

Related Articles:

* Steve Lemke on Collin Hansen and Provocation
* Steve Lemke and Christian Scholarship
* 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
* Steve Lemke’s Letter and My Response (by Tom Ascol)

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