"Calvinism as I see it" and the problems that it causes

I cannot help but wonder where Lonnie Wilkey has been the last several years. What has he been reading? To whom has he been listening? Where does he get the information on which he bases his opinions? The reason I wonder is due to the fact that Mr. Wilkey is the editor of the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s state paper, the Baptist and Reflector. He resides in a high place of influence among Tennessee Baptists. His opinions are widely published and probably carry a lot of weight with many of his readers. So the source of his opinions and how he formulates them are important.

His latest published editorial will leave many Southern Baptists seriously concerned about his ability to understand important theological discussions that are taking place among us. It is another hit job on Calvinism. What makes it stand out so much is that it seems about 5-7 years out of date. Even the title betrays the depth of editorial misunderstanding behind the article: “Calvinists have no sense of urgency–Jesus did.”

As I said, at best, Mr. Wilkey’s article is way past its “best if used by” date. Such scurrilous misrepresentations were common-place twenty years ago. Then, a man of reputed authority could stand up and declare that “Southern Baptists have never been Calvinists,” or “Calvinism kills evangelism” or “No great evangelist has ever been a Calvinist,” or “Spurgeon was not a Calvinist” or any number of other demonstrably inaccurate statements, and basically go unchallenged. Today, that is virtually impossible. With the ready availability of information through the internet, any inquisitive high school student with a modem can debunk such claims in a matter of minutes. That is why such broad accusations have lessened over the years–at least within academia and publishing houses (granted, some pastors and others are still a little slow on the uptake, but they also are learning to be more careful in their comments if they do not want to lose all credibility with the wifi generation).

It has been a few years since I have read these kind of broad-brush untruths about the doctrines of grace in a reputable Southern Baptist publication. Mr. Wilkey is way out of step. The article does not need a serious rebuttal, largely because the silly claims that it makes have been so frequently and thoroughly refuted in various places that anyone who can find google and spell “Calvinism” and “evangelism” will instantly have more than enough information to expose the superficiality of what Wilkey has written.

In his defense, Mr. Wilkey does offer this timid caveat: “Now, keep in mind I am writing from a layman’s perspective with no seminary training.” He is writing from one layman’s very skewed perspective. You do not need a seminary degree to avoid the kinds of mischaracterizations that Wilkey has perpetrated. You do need a willingness to look beyond your own feelings and do at least an hour’s worth of research.

Again, I am not going to review the article. Others can, and I am confident will do that. But I will resist the temptation even to address some of the more egregious statements he makes. Instead, I will highlight only one of his remarks, one which may well reveal the source of all his deep misunderstanding.

He writes, “The danger with Calvinism as I see it is that it could cause Southern Baptists in the pew to think they do not need to witness, give through the Cooperative Program to missions, or pray for lost souls. That would be a tragedy.” Mr. Wilkey’s problem is that he is reacting to “Calvinism as I see it” rather than the real thing. He does not understand historic Calvinism, historic Southern Baptist theology–which was thoroughly Calvinistic–or the relationship of the doctrines of grace to evangelism. The Calvinism that he sees is not true Calvinism. It is a straw man. Straw men are easy to construct, easy to destroy and other than leaving the one responsible for them feeling good about his work, they serve no useful purpose.

I am sorry to see this editorial get distributed. Not because it will hinder the cause of God or His truth. But because it will discredit Mr. Wilkey and probably confuse some of his readers who do not have access to all the information that is available on the subject. I regret both of these consequences.

I wish Mr. Wilkey no ill. I do not know him. If I did, I assume I would like him. Neither do I take any delight in exposing his serious errors. But he is in a position of sacred trust as an editor of a state Baptist paper. He should know better. He has published his errors publicly. It is appropriate that they should be held up to the light of public scrutiny.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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