Steve Lemke on Timothy George and ROSES

Tim Brister —  October 13, 2008 — 12 Comments

Steve Lemke has a section of his paper cleverly entitled “Flower Power” wherein he explains, to his satisfaction, the different between the “hard version” of TULIP and the softer, more acceptable version of ROSES as presented by Dr. Timothy George.  In my previous post, I addressed Lemke’s caricature of the doctrines of grace (other than getting the acronym correct, it is hard to see where he accurately stated the doctrinal affirmations of any of the five points).  From there, Lemke proceeds to make the argument that Timothy George’s ROSES is a “softer form of Calvinism” and a “helpful alternative to the ‘TULIP’ acronym.”  It is his contention that ROSES is an intentional “moving away” from the “harder Calvinism represented in the TULIP.”

But is this a valid distinction by Lemke?  Is ROSES really a “move away” from TULIP?  Lemke leads the reader to believe that ROSES represents substantive differences in the soteriological affirmations of the doctrines of grace.  Not only are there no substantive differences between ROSES and TULIP, I argue that Lemke misrepresents (again) TULIP and couches George’s ROSES in light of his own doctrinal convictions (eisegesis).  To support my argument, I will quote George directly from his book, Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative-Our Response (Nashville: LifeWay, 2000), and I will also quote Lemke directly from his article.

R – Radical Depravity

Timothy George:

“We are born rebels inheriting a corrupted nature from our parents and growing up in an environment tainted by sin. . . . Sin is a universal deformity of human nature and it places men and women everywhere under the certain reign of death and the inescapable wrath of God (see Rom. 3:9-20; Eph. 2:1-3)” (72).

Steve Lemke:

“Compared with total depravity, radical depravity agrees that every aspect of our being was damaged through the Fall and we can do nothing to save ourselves, but affirms that humans are not totally evil because we retain the image of God despite our fallenness.”

On the state of man, Lemke and George stand in direct disagreement.  George argues that we are born with a corrupted nature and spiritually dead.  Lemke argues that man is not born corrupted in nature and is not spiritually dead.  George has presented nothing different than what Calvinists who hold to in affirming total depravity.

George writes,

“The real question raised by the doctrine of radical depravity is how pathetic fallen human beings are apart from grace.  Are they merely sick, morally weak, or are they spiritually dead?  The Bible says the latter in Ephesians 2:1-2 . . . This is why the Bible describes becoming a Christian as a resurrection, a rising to new life” (73).

Lemke writes,

“[I]f one takes being ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ literally, i.e., if ‘dead means dead,’ then one can neither accept or reject Christ.  Dead people cannot accept, but on the other hand, neither can they reject, either! . . . The language of spiritual deadness . . . should be balanced by the alien and strangers metaphor (Eph. 2:11-22).  Aliens are alive; they simply do not have the proper relationship as citizens in the Kingdom.”

Could the contrast be any more clear?  The argument that Calvinists holding to TULIP believe in a total loss of the image of God is patently false and an irresponsible insertion by Lemke.  On point one, there is nothing softer nor could it be considered alternative viewpoint to TULIP.

O – Overcoming Grace

Timothy George:

“The term ‘irresistible grace’ is misleading because it seems to suggest that sinners are drawn to God in a mechanical, impersonal way, as a piece of metal is to a magnet” (74).

“Another term for overcoming grace is effectual calling.  It means simply that God is able to accomplish what He has determined to do in the salvation of lost men and women” (ibid.).

Steve Lemke:

“Compared with irresistible grace, overcoming grace (or effectual calling) affirms that God accomplishes salvation, but differs in that rather than salvation being a mechanical and deterministic process, it allows for even sinful, obstinate humans to respond to God’s persistent wooing.”

On the first quote, George provides his reasoning for his term “overcoming grace.”  His issue is with *the term* “irresistible grace” because it can be misleading.  In the second quote, George positively affirms the Calvinistic understanding of irresistible grace (or effectual calling).  To clarify, IG does not mean that sinners can resist or strive against God’s drawing; what it means is that among those whom God has chosen, His grace will triumph over their resistance and cause them to come, not against their will, but by changing their will (Calvinists hold to a freedom of inclination, i.e., compatibilism, while non-Calvinists hold to power of contrary choice, i.e., libertarianism).

The idea that Calvinists believe in a view of salvation where it is a “mechanical and deterministic process” is yet another caricature.  It is the very thing that George was concerned about the misleading nature of the term (as Lemke apparently has been misled).  So on point two, while George offers alternative terminology, he agrees in substance with TULIP.  Nothing “softer,” no alternative.

S – Sovereign Election

Timothy George:

“Election is unconditional in the sense that it is not based upon our decision for God, but rather God’s decision for us” (75).

George quotes J.I. Packer in an affirmative manner, who said:

“Before Creation God selected out of the human race, foreseen as fallen, those whom he would redeem, bring to faith, justify, and glorify in and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:3-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 2 Tim. 1:9-10).  This divine choice is an expression of free and sovereign grace, for it is unconstrained and unconditional, not merited by anything in those who are its subjects . . ..”

Steve Lemke:

“In contrast to the double predestinarianism of unconditional election, God sovereignly elects those whom He foreknows will respond to Him.”

Lemke’s most blatant error can be found in his treatment of George on sovereign election.  Lemke argues that George’s position on election is based on foreseen faith (“God sovereignly elects those whom He foreknows will respond to Him”).  This would make George a classical Arminian! (see article 1 on the Remonstrance)  The only foreseen language in George’s ROSES is found in the quote by Packer who says that God considers the elect “foreseen as fallen”–a distinction between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism, not a change in the nature of God’s election!  Precisely because God “foresees us as fallen,” i.e., spiritually dead, we are saved by God’s free choice, not our free choice.  God foresees our depravity, not our faith, and therefore takes the initiative in His unconditional love to save a people for Himself–a work of salvation attributed entirely to the Lord.

The phrase, “those whom He foreknows will respond to Him”, is an eisegetical insertion of Lemke’s own convictions that reveals his inability to separate his bias from George’s position on sovereign election.  The only issue that George addresses negatively is, again, the potentially misleading terminology of the adjective unconditional, but notice that George takes issue with the term and not its meaning.  Despite the theological spin, it is clear that George is not advocating election based on foreseen faith (conditional election) but rather is remaining consistent with the Reformed affirmation of unconditional election.

E – Eternal Life

Timothy George:

“To persevere is to persist, to continue, to be steadfast and unrelenting in purpose. . . . The Bible . . . attributes the fact that believers continue to abide in Christ to the keeping power of God” (78).

Again, George writes,

“Anyone who can sin blithely, flagrantly, flippantly with no sense of uneasiness, no qualms of conscience, is most likely a person who has never been genuinely born again in the first place” (79).

Steve Lemke:

“The phrase ‘perseverance of the saints’ might suggest that although we are saved by grace, we are kept by our good works.  The phrase ‘Once saved, always saved’ could suggest that we could claim Christ as Savior without making Him Lord of our lives.  George prefers eternal life or eternal security to convey the scriptural truth of the assurance of the believer.”

George clearly affirms the perseverance of the saints, not as necessary to our salvation, but as rightly understood in the Calvinistic tradition, where God secures the end by providing the means (in Himself).  We persevere by grace–the same grace that saved us.  There *will* be perseverance in a believer precisely because God is committed to keeping, perfecting, and glorifying His children who belong to Him.  The assurance of the believer does not come from tokens like praying a prayer or immediate pronouncements by a zealous evangelist.  Assurance comes from the inward testimony of the Spirit and outward evidence of obedience whereby the distinguishing marks of grace reveal a believing sinner to be “making his calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10).  With one point to go, George’s acronym has changed nothing in substance to TULIP; only potentially misleading terminology.

S – Singular Redemption

Lemke rightly represents George’s amyraldian position in that he argues “that Jesus’ death was sufficient to save everyone but is efficient only for those who repent and believe.” I stand corrected: George’s view on the atonement is indeed Dortian.  Second Head, Article Three states:

The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. (emphasis mine)

Therefore, it cannot be said that George’s position on the atonement is any different from the Dortian affirmation regarding the atonement (my oversight).  As George explains, “the Reformed position is better described as definite atonement or singular redemption” (81).

On none of the five points does George advocate an Arminian position, though Lemke tries, especially on election, to make it so.  George’s presentation of ROSES is thoroughgoingly consistent with the Canons of Dort (TULIP).  Creative imagination is required to argue that George is trying to offer an alternative or “softer version” of TULIP; if anything, he wants to use terms that are not as potentially misleading while at the same time holding true to the affirmations of Reformed soteriology.  Lemke wants you to believe that he stopped to smell the ROSES – that the ROSES he picks have no thorns.

You know, and I know, he could not be farther from the truth.

Related Articles:

* Steve Lemke on TULIP
* Steve Lemke on Total Depravity
* Steve Lemke on “Four Streams” of Calvinism, Part 2
* Steve Lemke on “Four Streams” of Calvinism, Part 1
* Steve Lemke on Collin Hansen and Provocation
* Steve Lemke and Christian Scholarship

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  • Brent Hobbs

    I busted out laughing when I read Lemke’s ‘summary’ of Sovereign Election. Timothy George must be rather surprised to find out what he really believes!

  • http://chadwickivester.wordpress.com chadwick

    Timmy,

    Dr. Lemke’s Theology runs “hand-in-hand” with Charles Finney’s Theology; Ian Murray summarized Finney’s Theological System as:

    “The whole idea that an unregenerate man was governed by a fallen nature was all wrong. … A decision of the will, not a change of nature, was all that was required to be converted. … If conversion was the result of the sinner’s decision, and if the inducing of that decision was the responsibility of the preacher … then any measure that would bring the unconverted right up to the point of instant and absolute conversion had to be good.” (Ian Murray)

    If the shoe fits? . . . . ;)

    I believe that today’s “majoritarian” Southern Baptists’ heritage is firmly rooted in Finney’s Theological [?] system rather than that of the SBC’s “Founding Fathers.” 8)

    chadwick

  • http://raewhitlock.com/ Rae Whitlock

    Regarding depravity, Lemke seems to be confusing “Total Depravity” (every part of us is sinful) with “Utter Depravity” (we’re all as sinful as we could possibly be) — a pretty common error that I’d hope a scholar like him would be keen to avoid.

  • http://www.hereiblog.com johnMark

    Timmy,

    I appreciate the work you’re doing on Lemke’s positions. The differences are so clear.

    Thanks,

    Mark

  • http://freegracepreacjer@blogsot.com PAUL WAYNE FOLTZ DD

    Lemke as usual. makes much ado about nothing. George agrees with the Calvinists’ Position.

    I wonder if he is writing to draw a crowd after him.

  • http://thomastwitchell.wordpress.com/ Thomas Twitchell

    What would be the appropriate labels for Lemke? You’ve defined him, care to use the labels that belong to the definitions?

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Thomas,

    I am not a big fan of labels, as I explained in the earlier posts. I think, from the two articles by Lemke, the case could be made in his own words, that he is very close to semi-Pelagianism.

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  • http://toddpruitt.blogspot.com Todd Pruitt

    Timmy,

    Thanks for this series of posts.

    You are absolutely correct in your assessment of George’s ROSES. I taught “Amazing Grace” as a Sunday evening elective course. It was a very helpful study and would surprise many Southern Baptists that it was Lifeway’s annual study a few years ago.

    Anyway, I agree that George in NO way “softens” TULIP. Actually I prefer ROSES in some ways because I think it communicates the doctrines of grace a bit more clearly.

    Of the 50 plus that attended the study there were several determined non-Calvinists who either changed their mind or walked away with a greater understanding of and appreciation for our Reformed heritage.

    blessings

  • http://www.xanga.com/jimpemberton Jim Pemberton

    Good work on this, Timmy!

    I’ve often considered that many who believe in LFW who take exception to Dortian Reformed theology to be semi-Pelagian if only because the philosophical presuppositions that inform their hermeneutic are themselves informed by the incoherent popular philosophical considerations of western culture. Rooted in existentialism, they produce undeveloped theologies that often match semi-Pelagianism closely.

  • http://joyfulfreedom1.wordpress.com/ joyfulfreedom1

    Thank you brother, this was a great help.

  • http://www.searchandrescue2.blogspot.com Steven Long

    Hi Timmy. I found your site via a search for Dr. George and stumbled upon the link that read to this review. It was very helpful for the reason that I had been hearing a lot about ROSES but was only briefly familiar with what it was. Your review helped me quite a bit. Thanks again. I’ll be dropping by from time to time to check for any new stuff.