Posted tagged ‘Steve Lemke’

Hyper-Calvinism, Anti-Calvinism, and Founders Ministries

December 5, 2008

Update 12.05.08 :: 11:30 p.m. Having been away most of the day with family outing and then church planting meeting, I have not been able to follow the comments of this post. Upon reading them, I have become discouraged by the direction of the commentary and chose to dump all existing comments, including my own, into the moderation pool.  I will follow up with my thoughts soon, Lord willing.

Whenever controversy arises in the SBC, it is always helpful to understand the agenda on both sides.  Regarding the current controversy over Calvinism, it is important to note that the agenda has often changed.  Earlier in the debate, the goal was to (1) discredit and debunk the doctrines of Calvinism (take William Estep’s 1997 article Doctrines Lead to Dunghill for example). The most devastating blow to Calvinism would be, of course, to show that it is unbiblical.  However, non-Calvinists have not dealt with the biblical texts, and as the John 3:16 Conference reveals, very little exegesis was offered for their rejection of the doctrines of grace.

When it became apparent that Calvinism could not be stopped by proving the doctrines were unbiblical, the next step (2) was to argue from pragmatism.  Calvinism, they say, is contrary to the Great Commission and would result in less baptisms and fewer people being saved.  LifeWay Research last year proved that this claim to be false much to the behest of Steve Lemke and some SWBTS professors.  Ed Stetzer has just posted a response to those challenging and questioning the research methods and approach regarding the Calvinism study by LifeWay/NAMB Research.

Furthermore, when pragmatism couldn’t snuff it out, the next thing on the agenda (3) was to police Calvinism.  In other words, if you can’t beat it, try to control it and marginalize it.  This was seen in the denominational talking point of the pastor search committee and Calvinists putting all their cards on the table.  Calvinists who are (and should be) up front with Calvinism have to plow through the caricatures and misunderstandings that have been perpetuated over the years.  With transparency and integrity as guiding principles, they are told that they should not be wearing Calvinism on their sleeve, that their willing admission therefore constitutes one who is “aggressive and militant.”  On the other hand, Calvinists who are perhaps “softer” and less outspoken about their soteriology simply preach the Bible and love the people, but should it be known at a later time they are Calvnists, they are deemed “deceptive, dishonest, and disruptive to our churches.”  In some state conventions (Florida, Texas, and Missouri to be specific), non-Calvinist literature was purchased and sent to every pastor in their states in an attempt to sway ministers against Calvinism.  Denominational platforms from convention speeches to Baptist state papers to academic “white papers”, the policing effort was rather comprehensive.


Tom Ascol Responds to the Anti-Calvinism in the SBC

November 26, 2008

Last week, I directed you to read the words of Voddie Baucham on the anti-Calvinism in the SBC. This week I want to turn your attention to the response of Tom Ascol who addresses three recent happenings: Steve Lemke’s article in NOBTS journal (which I have addressed), David Allen’s 34-page review of Building Bridges book, and the John 3:16 Conference. Ascol has not, to this point, responded to the escalating rhetoric and tactics of the anti-Calvinist movement in the SBC, predominantly located within SWBTS, NOBTS, and Jerry Vines and Co.  Some of the notable points by Ascol include:

1.  The “study” which Lemke again quotes to argue that Founders-friendly churches was not only methodologically flawed, but, should the same standard applied to the churches Lemke himself pastored, they would be in worse shape than the Founders churches.  The same goes for David Allen.  Perhaps a “study” should be done on the churches pastored by “seminary administrators.”

2.  Allen criticizes Building Bridges for partnering with Founders Ministries because it was a non SBC entity, while, within weeks after publishing this article, partners (and participates) with a conference that is a non SBC entity (Jerry Vines Ministries).  The ability of Allen to discredit himself is no less alarming than his hypocrisy on this point.

3.  Allen is deeply concerned about Dr. Nettles article “Why Your Next Pastor Should Be a Calvinist” while apparently not concerned by the dozens of denominational “servants” telling churches why your next pastor should NOT be a Calvinist. Different standards for different people.

4. David Miller, a conservative statesman and evangelist in the SBC, attended the John 3:16 Conference and shared his disappointment to Jerry Vines in a letter, part of which was summarized in Ascol’s article.  Miller writes,

“The brethren (presenters), not only contradicted each other but themselves as well” while building “straw men” and “knock[ing] them down with Scripture verses taken out of context…with measured sarcasm and no small dose of arrogance.”

Ascol concludes with a personal appeal for gospel-centered consensus by Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike while distancing from the agendas that seek to divide and create factions in the SBC.  He concludes,

Now is the time for Southern Baptists of all stripes to stand up and hold those who misrepresent brethren with whom they disagree accountable for their words and actions. Speak the truth in love and leave the consequences to God. The anti-Calvinists (as opposed to non-Calvinists) are becoming, as one seminary student put it recently, “increasingly irrelevant,” especially to younger SBC leaders. While they are writing and preaching to themselves, more and more Gospel-centered Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike are showing a genuine willingness to link arms in order to move forward to make disciples of the Lord Jesus.

In the comments of his article, Dr. Malcolm Yarnell has responded (eight times) to Tom Ascol, mostly pertaining to his admission that Servetus was a Baptist (when he was not).  The conversation is worth reading.  More later.

Steve Lemke Compilation

November 3, 2008

I know most of you are totally uninterested in the upcoming John 3:16 Conference or addressing Dr. Steve Lemke’s egregious errors, but I felt that it was important to make the previous posts readily accessible to anyone who would like to read my interaction and responses to Lemke’s article, “What Is a Baptist? Nine Marks That Separate Baptists from Presbyterians” (in the Fall edition of The Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry). Therefore, I have listed the articles for you below with the dates which they were written.

1. 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, 2008)
4. Steve Lemke on “Four Streams” of Calvinism, Part 2 (October 6, 2008)
5. Steve Lemke on Total Depravity (October 7, 2008)
6. Steve Lemke on TULIP (October 10, 2008)
7. Steve Lemke on Timothy George and ROSES (October 13, 2008)
8. Steve Lemke on Bethlehem Baptist Church, Baptism, and Church Membership (October 14, 2008)
9. Lemke’s Remarks and My Response Regarding Bethlehem Baptist Church (October 16, 2008)

There are still several points yet to address (such as his take on libertarian free will, decisional regeneration, and failure to understand the difference between infant salvation and infant baptism in Presbyterianism), but I felt that I have sufficiently shown in the nine previous articles the failure of Lemke to deal honestly and accurately with the subject matter at hand (Calvinism). I will likely create a button on the side bar linking to this page for future retrieval. If you would like to have all my responses in one downloadable document (27-page PDF), click here.

Lemke’s Remarks and My Response Regarding Bethlehem Baptist Church

October 16, 2008

In the comments of my previous post, Dr. Steve Lemke has responded to my comments regarding the factual errors in his journal article.  I was going to leave my response in the comments but at the conclusion felt that it was better to write a follow-up post here.  I will not reproduce Lemke’s comment here, although I will post some quotes from his comment.  My response is as follows:


Dr. Lemke,

I assume that, despite all the qualifications, you are offering a retraction on what you have written about Bethlehem Baptist Church.  If my assumption is right, then your bearing false witness against Piper and BBC has secondary implications–your charge of theological compromise.  The only right thing to do in a retraction is not only to correct the factual errors but also retract your falsely derived conclusion as well.

You said,

By the way, I do think you misunderstood what I was saying, although my statement could have been clearer. I was not saying that the CHURCH approved the motion, but that the ELDERS had adopted it.

Elder approval of a motion an a policy enacted by the congregation is not the same thing, at least in Baptist polity.  To say that “an amended policy was finally enacted in 2005 is simply not true, even with your argumentation (in the same paragraph you call it “the new policy“).  BBC holds to Baptist polity with congregational rule while being led by plurality of elders.  Simply because the elders approved a motion does not mean it was a policy in the church, as Piper and the documents clearly explain.  Having done a paper on the differences of Baptists and Presbyterians, you should know this.

The fact is that there were numerous ways which you could have contacted BBC, not the least of which is actually calling them (Sam Crabtree is the staff person you would want to talk to).  The information is clear as day on their church website, and any search engine would get you in the information within 30 minutes of searching.   The other site I referenced indeed was a blog–one that happens to be the most informative and reliable source of information on the internet.  Because it is a blog, it is any less credible?   “Not an internet site but a blog . . .” – what’s your point Steve?

Because the issue is not resolved does not mean that the church or elders are in active deliberation about this matter.  You argue that this paper was presented in February of 2007.  That was over a year after the motion was withdrawn and a year and a half before it was published in the journal article.  As an editor, is it not your responsibility to make sure that the information you present is up to date and accurate?

You argue,

Piper’s continued advocacy of allowing people into their church fellowship without having practiced believer’s baptism is the point, whether or not he temporarily backed away from it for pragmatic reasons.

Piper personally holds to a different position, but his advocacy of that position does not mean he allows people to be members apart from believer’s baptism.  There is a difference from a personally held belief and the policy of a church.  He said in the interview that BBC indeed does NOT allow people to join apart from believer’s baptism.  He did not back away because of “pragmatic” reasons but because of a right understanding of Baptist ecclesiology–precisely what you charge him of compromising on!  He was not going to force this issue but respectfully considered the disagreements among the plurality of elders and concerns of the congregation.

Your circumlocution does not strengthen your argument nor change the error you have made.  You have not presented the facts or accurately represented BBC and John Piper.  You owe them an apology and should not be defending your rationale with such justifications.

Finally, you are correct to say that your paper does not contain “inflammatory language,” but Dr. 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 misrepresented Timothy George on ROSES, you bore false witness regarding BBC and John Piper, you missed the point of theological triage by Al Mohler, and you wrongly presented by the Presbyterian beliefs of infant baptism.  So yes, no inflammatory language, but don’t you think that being wrong on all these points will not be considered a real provocation?

I, too, am willing to have good dialogue about these matters.  I never questioned your salvation, although I said your scholarship did not represent Christian virtue.  You are not telling the truth and representing the positions of those with whom you disagree accurately and fairly.  Until you are able to do so, I do not see how anyone will be able to enjoy a productive and engaging discussion with you on these matters.  Thanks for your comment, and I do hope that the future holds promise for charitable dialogue for the benefit of all people interested in the gospel, the church, and unity of faith in the fellowship of the saints.

Timmy Brister

Steve Lemke on Bethlehem Baptist Church, Baptism, and Church Membership

October 14, 2008

Steve Lemke is not a fan of Together for the Gospel.  The second half of his article is entitled, “Baptists and Presbyterians Not Together: Nine Marks Which Separate Baptists from Presbyterians,” where Lemke lays out his argument for Baptist separation (or, as I would argue, isolation).  Interestingly enough, his first two marks are “soul competency” and “age of accountability”–not exactly bedrock doctrines of the Baptist tradition.  In any case, he proceeds from there to believer’s baptism (mark 3) and baptism by immersion (mark 4).  In the fourth mark, we find yet another major error in Lemke’s presentation–this time it is Bethlehem Baptist Church‘s position on baptism and church membership.

In the pertinent portion of Lemke’s commentary, he writes:

“Piper’s proposed statement did not find general agreement among the church’s elders, and the issue was discussed for several years.  An amended policy was finally enacted in August 2005.  Although expressing preference for baptism by immersion, the amended membership statement expressed the desire ‘not to elevate beliefs and practices that are nonessential to the level of prerequisites for church membership.’  Thus, according to the new policy, ‘Christians who have not been baptized by immersion as believers, but, as they believe, by some other method or before they believed, may under some circumstances be members of this church.'”

Now, for those of you who can remember back in 2005, the debate over baptism and church membership was no private matter.  Documents were made public, and the discussion was one of the most heated in the blogosphere.  I recall in particular one church’s elder body, Clifton Baptist Church, writing a letter to the elders of BBC encouraging them to reconsider the proposed amendment by the elders.


Steve Lemke on Timothy George and ROSES

October 13, 2008

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.


Steve Lemke on TULIP

October 10, 2008

Since I addressed the T in TULIP in greater detail in my previous post, I will begin with the U of Unconditional election.  While each point of TULIP as addressed by Lemke could (and probably should) be addressed in separate posts, I will am pursuing brevity for the benefit of the reader and should in no wise be taken as a concession for Lemke’s errors.

Unconditional Election

On Unconditional Election, Lemke writes:

“Many Calvinists understand ‘unconditional election’ to mean that salvation is provided by God without any involvement or free choice on the party of the sinner, counting any human response (even assent) as a work.”

Absolutely false. Who are the “many Calvinists” Lemke is referring to who contend that unconditional election removes human responsibility?  Perhaps he is referring to hyper-Calvinists who reject “duty faith.”  Maybe by “free choice of the party of the sinner” he is allowing only for libertarian free will which we find later in his article he advocates.  If that is the case, then yes, Calvinists do not allow for this kind of free will.  This is because the Bible does not allow for libertarian free will (if you will notice in his paper, there are no Scriptural proofs for his arguments).  LFW cannot function with unconditional election, predestination, and divine foreknowledge, and the “power of contrary choice” ultimately makes the human decision the terminal cause in a most arbitrary sense.


Steve Lemke on Total Depravity

October 7, 2008

Dr. Steve Lemke briefly gives his understanding of the doctrines of grace, otherwise known as the five points of Calvinism, and follows it up with what he calls “a helpful alternative” and “a softer version” in Dr. Timothy George’s acronym of ROSES.  In the following posts, I will interact with Lemke’s understanding of the five points and follow up with his take on George’s ROSES.

Of the five points, Lemke places the greatest emphasis on total depravity.  I do find this helpful because it is an appropriate starting point (only after having addressed the monergistic and theocentric marrow of Calvinism).  One of the first critiques I made of Dr. James Leo Garrett in his six-article presentation of “Dortian Calvinism” is that he devoted little to no attention to the doctrine of total depravity.  So I am glad to see that Lemke has taken up this important doctrine, although I disagree with his understanding of it.

In his description of TULIP, Lemke writes the following on total depravity:

“Understood in the fully Calvinist sense, ‘total depravity’ means that infants are born with original sin, and are thus ‘dead’ spiritually (Eph. 2:1-3), and utterly incapable of responding to God without God’s election.”

In fairness, Lemke is not giving a detailed description of totally depravity, but even in this one sentence summary, there are several errors in his presentation of the Calvinistic understanding of total depravity.  The fact that infants are born with [original] sin is not held only by Calvinists.  Indeed, human inability as a result of sin has been believed by both Arminians and Calvinists.  Responding to God was not directly related to “God’s election” as much as how they understood the nature of God’s grace (saving and efficacious for Calvinists and enabling and prevenient [or persuasive] for Arminians).  In Article III of the Remonstrance (the Arminian declaration), it states:


Steve Lemke on “Four Streams” of Calvinism, Part 2

October 6, 2008

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.


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

October 3, 2008

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).

Steve Lemke on Collin Hansen and Provocation

October 2, 2008

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.”


Steve Lemke and Christian Scholarship

September 30, 2008

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.