Calvinism's "Comeback" and the reformation we need

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As Pastor Leap noted in a comment on the previous blog entry, Christianity Today’s current (September 2006) issue [EDIT: it is now online here] has a cover story on the resurgence of reformed theology among the rising generation of American Christians–especially pastors and church leaders. Collin Hansen does a good job describing this reformation movement and highlights some of the men whom God is using in significant ways to fuel its flames.

The article documents what a few people have been saying for the last few years: we are in the early stages of real reformation. Reformed theology certainly is foundational to this reformation, but what is happening should not be dismissed or superficially assessed as simply more people becoming Calvinists than in previous years. From my vantage point God is raising up a generation who are weary of an American evangelicalism that is insipid at best and in truth is more committed to America than it is to the evangel. As Joshua Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland is quoted as saying, once it is accepted that “it’s not about us, it’s about God’s glory, it’s about his renown … that’s the first step down a path of Reformed theology.”

Interestingly, theologian Roger Olson, a self-described “genuine Arminian,” makes this comment about his Reformed counterparts: “A lot of us evangelical Arminians agree with them in their criticisms of popular folk religion….I agree with their basic theological underpinnings–that doctrine is important, that grace is the decisive factor in salvation, not a decision we make.” My own experience confirms this. Give me a warm-hearted, Wesleyan Arminian any day over the typical, non-descript, atheological evangelical that has dominated American conservative Christianity for the last 50 years. And by all means give me that person over an ungracious, belligerent Calvinist.

There are some statements in the article that are sure to raise eyebrows if not blood pressures. For example, Hansen calls “the [sic–he doesn’t get the importance of the definite article!] Southern Baptist Theological Seminary” a “Reformed hotbed.” Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is quoted. Unfortunately, his “white paper” from 2005, that has been rather vigorously debunked on this blog previously (here, here, here and here), is quoted. Dr. Lemke is further cited in what I can at best say is an unfortunate way. If the summation and quote are accurate, then any hope that I had from our previous exchange (see the links above) is completely dissipated.

Hansen writes:

Lemke doubts that Calvinism has yet reached its high-water mark in the SBC. But he is no fan of this trend. Baptism and membership figures, he said, show that the Calvinist churches of the SBC’s Founders Ministries lack commitment to evangelism. According to Lemke, the problem only makes sense, given their emphasis on God’s sovereign election. “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.

Love hopes he was quoted wrongly. But experience makes me think otherwise. The canard about Founders churches and evangelism has been addressed very decisively. Lemke has better information than he had when he wrote his white paper. He should know better. What we “Founders types” lack is not a commitment to evangelism but a commitment to shallow evangelism that thinks you can save a soul for $48 dollars a month or results in vastly more “converts” that show no signs of life than those who do. We do stand against the kind of evangelism that fills our churches with unregenerate members. But we do not stand against biblical evangelism. Neither did Whitefield, Spurgeon, Boyce, Judson, Carey or Edwards (to name but a few). The fact that Lemke cannot understand how one can believe unconditional election and remain passionate about evangelism tells us far more about him and his theological understanding than it does about evangelical Calvinism. Furthermore, for him to think that because he is not “crucial” to the process of salvation he must therefore be less passionate about evangelism is a serious indictment on his understanding of grace and love.

The article that Hansen has written is well worth reading. It should encourage all who long for spiritual and doctrinal reformation in our churches. By God’s grace, such reformation is happening. May God be pleased to cause it to increase.

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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