In Part 1 of my response to Dr. Steve Lemke’s “four streams” of Calvinism, I addressed the unhelpful nature of labels and his misrepresentation of Founders Ministries. In Part 2, I want to briefly respond to the other three “streams” and show just how his definitions are superficial and stereotypical. Let’s pick up with the second “stream.”
2. “Together for the Gospel Calvinists”
“Together for the Gospel Calvinists tend to be well-trained theologically, and they give careful attention to Calvinism as a doctrinal system. This branch has a number of persons in key positions of convention leadership, especially in seminaries.”
Lemke is right in saying that Together for the Gospel Calvinists are well-trained theologically, but to say they are the *only* stream that is well-trained is simply to create a false dichotomy between Baptist Calvinists. There is a great overlap between T4G and Founders as seen both in their conferences and the Founders Journal. Both enjoy fellowship with non-Baptists and agree in the soteriological framework of the Reformed tradition. Furthermore, there are many “Reformed Relevants” that could also be included in this group. For instance, Mark Dever, one of the founding four of T4G recently spoke at an Acts 29 Boot Camp in Chicago. Daniel Montgomery, a leading “Reformed Relevant” and pastor of Sojourn Church in Louisville recently spoke in SBTS chapel (several professors and a large number of seminary students are members at Sojourn). Numerous other examples could be given, such as Lig Duncan and John Piper who both have affiliated themselves with Founders Ministries and C.J. Mahaney (and his successor Josh Harris) who are closely related to Mark Driscoll and the conservative wing of the emerging church movement. These examples but a small sampling to show how unhelpful Lemke’s classifications are to the discussion of Baptist Calvinists.
I should mention, also, that there are more missionaries being sent out through SBTS than any other seminary in the SBC. By providence, I ending up sitting next to the International Mission Board (IMB) recruiter for SBTS on a connecting flight from Atlanta to Louisville earlier this year. I asked him about Calvinism and missions, and here is what he told me. He said that he could extend his visit by an additional two weeks and still not get in all the interviews and appointments with students seeking to go on mission overseas. All of my roommates from college are “five-point Calvinists,” and all of them have attended seminary and currently on the mission field. Oh, and they are all very well-trained theologically too. It is possible to have a robust theology and also be missionally driven. The fact that there is a dichotomy between the two has served much of the problem of pragmatism ruling our practice, not a faithful expression of biblical revelation.
3. “Reformed Relevants”
“Reformed Relevants are less doctrinaire than Founder’s (sic) Movement Calvinists or Together for the Gospel Calvinists. They tend to be less loyal to the SBC as a denomination, and tend to accommodate some Presbyterian practices such as open drinking alcoholic beverages.”
Lemke is right about Reformed Relevants being less loyal to the SBC as a denomination. They know that we are living in a post-denominational world and connect through other, less-bureaucratic structures such as affinity-based networks. Speaking of networks, the leading organization of Reformed Relevants in the SBC is the Acts 29 Network, where you will find several leading Southern Baptists, including Darrin Patrick (who is currently Vice-President), Daniel Montgomery, Ed Stetzer, and J.D. Greear. To say that they are “less doctrinaire than Founders Ministries or Together for the Gospel” does injustice to their statement of faith. Take a look at their doctrinal statement, and you tell me if they are weak on theology.
Also, it should be noted that the last National Founders Conference had Ed Stetzer as their keynote speaker in a conference focused on church planting and revitalization. In addition, Founders board members and several leading “Reformed Relevants” have met together in the past and will continue to do so in the future (as seen in the upcoming A29 Lead Conference in St. Louis).
I do find it interesting, however, that Lemke brings beverage alcohol to the discussion as a means of trying to define “Reformed Relevant Calvinists.” That conversation I will leave for another day.
4. “Irenic Calvinists”
“Irenic Calvinists are Calvinistic in their doctrine, especially regarding some aspects of Calvinistic soteriology, but they do not share a Calvinistic missiology. They do not make their Calvinism a major issue in their ministries, and they give conscious attention to the effectiveness of means in missions and evangelism.”
This last stream, I believe, is more of a commentary of non-Calvinists than an actual description of Baptist Calvinists. In fact, I would argue that it is a nondescript category better entitled as the “politically correct” Calvinists–the kind who are not supposed to discuss doctrine or really believe that they believe. It is perplexing to find a label for “Irenic Calvinists” as though those in the other categories do not fit into this category, especially in regards to focusing both on doctrine (theology) and practice (mission). A truly balanced Calvinist will have both a healthy credenda and agenda and understand how the former fuels the latter.
According to Lemke, these Calvinists “do not share a Calvinistic missiology.” Now as to what he means by this, it is anyone’s guess. But if he is talking about the Calvinistic missiology of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Jesse Mercer, or Andrew Fuller, then such a Calvinistic missiology should be embraced by all streams of Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. Has Lemke considered the church planting and evangelistic enterprises of John Calvin himself?
Having looked at these four “streams” by Lemke, it is hard to find how they are helpful in any regard. They are superficial and stereotypical at best. There comes a time when labeling is seen as nothing less than backyard name-calling. If you want to know who the Baptist Calvinists are, talk to them. If you want to know what they believe and how they live out their faith and practice, get to know them. Don’t buy into the arbitrary labels that don’t correspond to reality. Any one at any time can use a label as a power play in words to influence a reader to agree to their bias. I would only ask that there be an honest, objective assessment that attempts to give clarity, not confusion to the topic a hand.
* Steve Lemke on “Four Streams” of Calvinism, Part 1
* 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