Steve Lemke on Collin Hansen and Provocation

In the introduction to his article, “What Is a Baptist?: Nine Marks That Separate Baptists from Presbyterians,” Dr. Steve Lemke talks about the current resurgence of Calvinism among Southern Baptists and provides a footnote in which he provides a “for what it’s worth” statement regarding Collin Hansen’s journalism.  For those of you who may not be aware of who Collin Hansen is, he is an editor at Christianity Today and the author of the article “Young, Restless, and Reformed: Calvinism Is Making a Comeback – and Shaking Up the Church” (September 22, 2006) as well as the recently published book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008).

On Steve Lemke

In the footnote, Lemke writes the following:

“For what it’s worth, Hansen described me as having ‘the most provocative comments in the SBC’ regarding concerns about Calvinism.  Clearly, many have said and are saying far harsher things than I.  In the phone interview, Hansen repeatedly tried to lead me to say negative things about Calvinism in general and a sister SBC seminary in particular, which I refused to do.  However, his article portrays me as a naysayer to Calvinism, which does not reflect my position accurately.”

First, what was Hansen describing when he was referring to “provocative comments” by Lemke?  Here is what Collin writes in his book:

“[Frank] Page can’t claim the SBC’s most provocative comments about Calvinism.  Those might belong to Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  ‘I believe that [Calvinism] is potentially the most explosive and divisive issue facing us in the near future,’ he warned in 2005.  ‘It has been an issue that has split literally dozens of churches, and it holds the potential to split the entire convention.’

Lemke sees the rising generation of Southern Baptist ministers as ‘the most Calvinist we have seen in several generations.’  He doubts that Calvinism has yet reached its high-water mark in the SBC.  And that spells trouble, according to Lemke.  Baptism and membership figures, he said, shows that Founders churches lack commitment to evangelism.

‘For many people, if they’re convinced that God has already elected those who will be elect . . . I don’t see how humanly speaking that can’t temper your passion, because you know you’re not that crucial to the process,’ Lemke explained” (emphasis mine).
– Collin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed, 86.

As you can see, Collin qualified his comments about Lemke by saying that he *might* have the most provocative statements.  On a point that I will address later, Lemke comes away with the conclusion that Calvinists are not evangelistic or committed to missions because they know they’re “not that crucial to the process.”  Incidentally enough, this very faulty research compelled then president of the SBC, Bobby Welch, to insert a portion of Lemke’s article into the FBC Daytona Beach newsletter (July 10, 2005) arguing that “no clearer answer could be given between Calvinism and the Great Commission” than what Lemke revealed in his “study.”  Furthermore, Lemke considers Calvinism to be the “most explosive and divisive issue” such that it has “the potential to split the entire convention.”  But I have to ask you, who is making Calvinism an issue?  Who is lobbing grenades across the SBC landscape?  Who is on the attack both in the public and in the press?  Nelson Price, Lonnie Wilkey, Jerry Vines, Malcolm Yarnell, Steve Lemke, Elmer Towns, Bill Harrell, Ergun Caner, John Connell, Frank Page, Johnny Hunt, Fisher Humphreys, Jack Graham, Roy Fish, Bill Wilks, Dick Lincoln, Norman Jameson, and the like?  Since 2000, all of these men have sought gone after Calvinism to make it an “explosive” and “divisive” issue.  If it splits the convention, we will know where the fault line came from.

But secondly, what Collin did not mention was the use of the term “hyper-Calvinistic soteriology” in his former paper entitled “The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals.”  In this paper, Lemke refers to two types of Calvinism (as contrasted to the four in the latter paper).  Lemke writes,

“One stream is what we might call hard hyper-Calvinism (often associated with the Founders Movement), and the other is a softer baptistic Calvinism.” (emphasis mine)

Over the last five years, the charge of “hyper-Calvinism” has been used without qualification or substantiation (see Yarnell’s “The Heart of a Baptist” for further examples of this).  It is a term that is employed to stigmatize a group of Calvinists who otherwise, at least historically speaking, would be called “consistent Calvinists” (apparently, Lemke argues that Dortian Calvinism, that is five-point Calvinism, is the same thing as “hyper-Calvinism”).  But “hard hyper-Calvinism” comports with the attempt to argue that Calvinists neither believe in the love of God for sinners nor the responsibility to evangelize the lost.  Simply put, it is a provocative statement which bears no substance.  It is not historically accurate nor does it correspond to the character or ministry of Baptist Calvinists today.  Granted, there may be a hyper-Calvinist or two in the SBC, but when called upon to name the hyper-Calvinists, inquirers are given the silent treatment.  Even in the current article by Lemke, while he inserts much of what is said in the former article, one thing he leaves out is his usage of “hard hyper-Calvinism.”  What we have seen in short order is the initial attempt to defeat Calvinism have turned into attempts to police Calvinists with ultimatums from the top-down, and if that doesn’t work, then simply smear them and misrepresent their position.  This isn’t dealing charitably with Calvinists or accurately with Calvinism.

On Collin Hansen

Now regarding Collin Hansen, I feel that I might say a word or two “for it’s worth.”  In full disclosure, since his initial interview of me in May 2005, Collin and I have become good friends, and we recently talked about Lemke’s thoughts regarding the phone interview.  While in Louisville for the 2005 New Attitude Conference, Collin and I met for what ended up to be a three hour interview and discussion about my life, the SBC, and his future book.  I cannot recall exactly how Collin was directed to meet with me, but the phone conversations prior to our breakfast I recall was the impetus to creating the “chronological compilation” for both his purposes and mine.

During the interview, I shared some deeply personal and difficult times in my life, much of which I had not made public.  I shared this with him, not knowing whether such sensitive information would be accurately portrayed in the public.  Anyone who reads the section on my life will see that my experiences were not exactly of “mountaintop” nature.  In any case, weeks after the interview Collin and I corresponded again, and I requested two things: (1) that names of individuals and churches not be mentioned for their benefit, and (2) an opportunity to review the final version simply for factual purposes.  In every request, Collin was respectful and gracious, allowing me opportunity to ensure that the account was accurate and objective, even when the retelling of the events in my past were revealing painful scars.

Anyone who has ever been interviewed by a reporter that oftentimes they pick and choose at will what they want to include in their report, and you have nothing to say about it.  Statements are often taken out of context and/or are inaccurately stated for editorial purposes.  Collin did none of this, and for that I am grateful.

Related Articles:

* Interview with Collin Hansen, Part 1
* Interview with Collin Hansen, Part 2
* Interview with Collin Hansen, Part 3
* Reflections on “Young, Restless, and Reformed” Article

Explore posts in the same categories: Calvinism, Responses, SBC

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19 Comments on “Steve Lemke on Collin Hansen and Provocation”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Timmy, thank you for the clarification and insightful commentary. Your treatment on this issue is both irenic and helpful, I think. Certainly not arrogant, divisive, nor explosive. A welcomed cup of cold water, which I wish the elite scholars and leaders would drink themselves.

    Perhaps one could saw that one who is not a Baptist and not in the geographical region (Oregon) to rub shoulders with any/many SBCers there is little incentive for a future pastor like me to follow the discussion. Yet, I think your observations and commentary serve us well as ones who look from the ‘outside.’ Dealing with the actual words of Jesus and the text of the Bible will force us all to sort out where we “land.” Glad God landed on me, for I wouldn’t be able to choose him as freely as one may suppose in my stubborn state of deadness, blindness and rebellion. Praise God that He is the Gospel.

  2. Kyle Says:

    I’ve been thinking a lot about Lemke’s comments since I read his paper. I’ve been going back and forth about what the appropriate response should be. On the one hand, I would like to see a careful, scholarly article that dismantles Lemke’s paper, point by point. But the more I’ve thought about it, I’ve wondered if Calvinists in the SBC might be better served by ignoring it altogether and focusing on building up their churches and preaching the gospel to the lost.

    I’m relatively new to the SBC, and I could see myself getting quickly drawn in to the inter-denominational fights about Calvinism. So perhaps these words are more of an admonition to myself that there are much more important things to spend my energy on.

    Thanks for the blog.

  3. Kyle,

    Your dilemma is one that I share (I and others have been responding to this kind of stuff for over three years, and it does get old). Having been aware of Lemke’s article for a couple of weeks, I felt that perhaps indifference would be the better option. Nevertheless, the errors and misrepresentations need to be corrected. Calvinists indeed are better served in focusing on the gospel, the church, and the mission. I look forward to spend my energy in the future in these areas. Thanks for commenting and more importantly committing yourself to God and His gospel.

  4. I like what you guys have said. I do think that debating Calvinism is not as good for Calvinism as when leaders in the church who are Calvinists just spread the gospel and build their churches to be healthy and culturally engaging. In the long run, debating seems to entrench each camp more and more, whereas real life examples of people like John Piper and Mark Driscoll actually do more for the cause of the doctrines of grace than any debate or conference.

    People most need to see evangelistic Calvinists “doing church” and spreading the gospel and engaging the culture better than non-Calvinists. Whoever spreads the Kingdom more effectively will always win the day in my mind. Calvinism is best “defended” indirectly.

  5. Bradley,

    I agree with your thoughts generally, but I would add that a commitment to the gospel is seen both in proclamation and in its defense. Paul would be a good example of one who would not passively ignore error while at the same time passionately pursuing the goal to call “all men everywhere to repent.”

  6. johnMark Says:

    I am not sure which post to ask this on, but since this is the most recent I’ll do it here.

    The preface. Baptist theologian and self-proclaimed Arminian Dr. Roger Olson in his book Arminian Theology on pages 30-31 discusses theology and American evangelical churches. He says that “most” of these churches are semi-Pelagian or Pelagian which are heretical positions. He also states his observations in an interview with Dr. Horton in Modern Reformation magazine.

    In light of Dr. Olson’s comments, I want to ask how it is Calvinism that is such a big danger in the SBC?

    As far as I know most (all?) proper theological perspectives, especially baptist, would hold that any form of pelagianism is heretical. And if most American churches hold this position then why isn’t this being addressed?

    I would love for those who continue to write against Calvinism to answer. And if they disagree with Dr. Olson why aren’t these same people writing against such a strong heretical labeling of so many churches?


  7. johnMark,

    That is a great question. I would argue that the decisional regeneration developed more for practical reasons than theological reflection has its roots more in the 2nd Great Awakening and Charles Finney in particular. The methods have been adopted, and the theology has been assumed.

    Finney was clearly semi-Pelagian, and while the connection between theology and methodology today seems hardly ever made, the are wedded together nonetheless. It is evident that during the 20th century when these methods were imbibed that it was also a time that did not embrace confessionalism.

    I think Olson is right. The non-Calvinists would not consider themselves as Arminian. They use the term “bibliclist” which is a safe way of creating a label with no reference point. But when it comes down to it, the argument has to be made by non-Calvinists that they are not semi-Pelagian, and I haven’t heard anyone writing or holding a conference to answer such a question.

  8. Tim B Says:

    One thing I noticed with Lemke’s use of statistics a fundamental flaw in his evaluation. In statistics correllation does not equal or prove cause. So for example, in footnote three page 11, Lemke cites statistics of decline: low baptisms, on average smaller church size, declining membership, etc. He cites this to defend that Calvinist churches tend “to be less evangelistic”.

    There may be a correllation between small church size, low baptisms, etc. and Founders or Calvinistic churches however that does not prove cause (for Lemke: their doctrine and lack of evangelism).

    First, it is God who provides the fruit for evangelism. We sow and water, God causes the growth. Theologically we cannot measure the extent of the efforts of evangelism by the fruit of evangelism.

    Second, there could be a whole host of other factors related to the churches (location, population decline, culture, etc.) that has nothing to do with less evangelistic efforts.

    Third, following Lemke’s use of stastics you could make all sorts of claims. You could erroniously argue the non-founders churches do not preach ‘Christ crucified’ because the cross is an offense or that they preach an easy believism, or they don’t practice regenerate church membership. The statistic do not prove this any more than they prove the cause is less evangelism in Calvinist churches.

    Once more: in stastics correllation does not prove cause.

  9. Tim B Says:

    ARGHH… sorry about the typos. I went too fast.

  10. Tim,

    thanks for the, always, thoughtful posts. I have not read for a few weeks, but wanted to let you know that Jerry Vines is hosting “The John 3:16” Conference on November 6-7 at First Baptist, Woodstock, GA. When you look at conference info at , it immediately starts the description by stating this will not be a “lets bash the Calvinists” conference. I am planning to attend in order to listen and learn, especially in light of the speakers: Jerry Vines, Paige Patterson, Richard Land, Steve Lemke and others. I am interested in hearing what will be said and even more so in events to follow.

    Just a brief story. I recently met an evangelist that has traveled extensively throughout the southeast. He stated to me his concerns about Calvinism, and especially the argument that it kills evangelism. He, obviously, shared some personal examples. I stated to him that in the area in which I live there are close to 40 churches in the local Baptist Association. Our Associational Missionary stated to me his great concern of the lack of evangelistic zeal among the churches. I then asked the evangelist if he believed that Calvinism was the problem? The obvious answer was “no” because many church members in our association would probably not know much about Calvinism anyway. You are on task when you speak of the unfair characterizations made on Calvisnists.

    Many blessings to you.

  11. johnMark Says:


    I will be there too.

    You can contact me through my blog if you like.


  12. Tim B,

    The statistics and conclusions have been challenged (from 2005’s article) and I guess will need to be addressed again. I’ve got some statistics to present as well.

  13. Rodney,

    Local Baptist Associations have been an interesting place to police Calvinism in the SBC. I know of one DOM who has filtered all resume’s to the churches in his association that come from SBTS because it is a “Calvinist” school. We are all aware of the Arbuckle Baptist Association who made a motion to “take a stand against Reformed theology.” See here:

    The denominational bureaucracy have done well to perpetuate antagonism against Calvinists in the SBC.

    State papers give editorial license to from men like Mark Wingfield of The Western Recorder (KY) and The Baptist Standard (TX) to Lonnie Wilkey of the Baptist Reflector (TN) to Norman Jameson of The Biblical Recorder (NC) to freely express their dislike of Calvinism.

    State conventions such as the Florida Baptist Convention under the direction of John Sullivan and the Southern Baptist Texas Convention (SBTC) under the direction of Don Cass have distributed to all pastors within their respective state conventions anti-Calvinistic material (in TX it was Roy Fish’s “The ‘C’ Word” sermon and in FL it was Vines’ “Baptist Battles”). The Alabama Baptist paper recently ran a multi-article series by Dr. James Leo Garrett which was a bit more fair though not entirely accurate. AL Baptist state convention, by the way, has also publicly recommended Fisher Humphreys book For God So Loved the World to pastors in AL wanting to understand Calvinism.

    Needless to say, state conventions and local associations have continued to use their platform to push their antagonism against Calvinism on a regular basis.

    On a convention level, we have heard speeches from men like Dick Lincoln, motions from John Connell, and ultimatums from the director of the Executive Committee Bill Harrell to deal with Calvinism once and for all in the SBC.

    On an academic level, there have been articles by Drs. Malcolm Yarnell, Steve Lemke, and Elmer Towns which have attempted to debunk or discredit Baptist Calvinists.

    On a presidential level, the last four presidents (Graham, Welch, Page, and Hunt) have all been outspoken in their anti-Calvinist positions.

    And now we are holding conferences about Calvinism by non-Calvinists.

    If these references are not an indication of how systemic the anti-Calvinist agenda is in the SBC, I can provide further documentation.

    My guess is that it will not end, although some who have spearheaded the agenda have since backed off. Since the advent of blogging and the democratization of the Baptist voice, authorized outlets like state papers and the Baptist Press and bully pulpits and convention speeches are no longer immune to accountability.

  14. I just finished reading the 60 pages of the journal concerning Lemke’s article. I found it to be a lot less hysterical than some believe, and certainly less so than the hysterics by Prof. Lemke in the previous post’s comments would have us believe.

    Nonetheless, I found Lemke’s article to be close to failing grade material. I agree that if I had turned in a paper like this one, I’d at the very least be given the paper back or given a D maximum. Mark Rathel easily dismantles Lemke’s paper, and of the other two responses, only Hatchet’s paper bothers to give any substance. Ken Gore’s very short submission seems to say, “I don’t know, I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”

    Of these four papers, Rathel and Hatchet’s papers are the only ones offered even worth reading. I liked Hatchet’s and I hope more non-Calvinists behave as he did.

  15. […] Provocations & Pantings Trusting God :: Treasuring Christ :: Triumphing the Gospel « Steve Lemke on Collin Hansen and Provocation […]

  16. […] 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 […]

  17. […] “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 Explore posts in the same categories: Calvinism, […]

  18. […] Lemke, you have wrongly presented a whole host of people.  I have shown that you were not fair in the journalism of Collin Hansen, you falsely labeled “streams” of Calvinism, you wrongfully explained TULIP, you […]

  19. […] Steve Lemke and Christian Scholarship (September 30, 2008) 2. Steve Lemke on Collin Hansen and Provocation (October 2, 2008) 3. Steve Lemke on “Four Streams” of Calvinism, Part 1 (October 3, […]

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