President Bobby Welch, Dr. Steve Lemke, Southern Baptists and Calvinism, Pt. 3

More on Dr. Lemke’s article:

Wise voices such as Adrian Rogers, Danny Akin, and Paige Patterson have warned about the dangers of unchecked hyper-Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Granted, the three men mentioned are indeed wise and Southern Baptists owe a debt of gratitude to each of them. Their courage, boldness, commitment to the Word of God and labors to see such commitment restored and spread throughout the SBC are worthy of honor and emulation. The same cannot be said, however, about many of their comments about Calvinism. Once again, Dr. Lemke’s imprecise and even careless use of “hyper-Calvinism” is disturbing. Just where does he see “unchecked hyper-Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention”? Is he talking about Founders Ministries? Based on previous comments in his article, one can only assume that he is.

I do not want to belabor the point but it is crucial, especially in any kind of meaningful dialog on this subject, to be careful in our use of terms–especially pejorative terms. I am reminded of a comment that Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones made when reflecting on this very problem. He said, “The ignorant Arminian does not understand the difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism.” No honest theologian would want to be liable to this critique.

If hyper-Calvinism exists in the SBC, then all who love Jesus Christ and the souls of men and women should ruthlessly root it out. For a theologian to wonder dispassionately about how far hyper-Calvinism will spread in the SBC is like a Police Chief wondering aloud about how far known gangsters will spread in his city as he merely tracks their spread. It is dereliction of duty.

If what Dr. Lemke sees in Founders Ministries is hyper-Calvinism, then attack it with all your power. If it is not, then quit falsely claiming that it is.

Dr. Lemke next seeks to pit Dr. Timothy George’s restatement of the 5 points of Calvinism against the more familiar TULIP presentation of them.

What is the difference between hyper-Calvinism and the more typical baptistic Calvinism? Timothy George, President of Beeson Seminary who is himself a Calvinist, has provided a helpful clue in contrasting the “TULIP” acronym of Synod of Dort hyper-Calvinism (although this popular acronym does not fully communicate the affirmation of that Synod) with a “ROSES” acronym of a softer version of Calvinism that is closer to what most Baptists believe.

Again, to charge the Synod of Dort with “hyper-Calvinism” is theologically irresponsible, historically inaccurate and biblically sinful (it violates the 9th Commandment–something that too many scholars fail to take seriously enough in their writing and teaching). Dr. George does not reject Dort’s pronouncements in his restatement of the 5 points. In fact, Dort did not invent the so-called “5 points of Calvinism” in the first place.

It is evident that Dr. Lemke is either unfamiliar with or does not understand the published Canons of Dort. Again, that is not a crime and may even be expected of most sincere followers of Jesus in our day. But the provost of a theological seminary, particularly one who publicly levels the charge of hyper-Calvinism against Dort, should know better.

I will not take the time to go point by point to show the deficiency of Dr. Lemke’s attempt to pit Dr. George’s restatement against the traditional 5 points, though it is readily evident to anyone who reads the Canons of Dort, or even a book on Calvinism (like the excellent and recently expanded and republished Five Points of Calvinism) and compares them to Dr. Lemke’s analysis.

As one example of what I am talking about, consider the following. Dr. Lemke writes:

Finally, unlike limited atonement, singular redemption communicates that Jesus’ death was sufficient to save everyone but is efficient only for those who repent and believe.

He pits what he calls Dort’s “hyper-Calvinism” of “limited atonement” against Dr. George’s “softer version Calvinism” of “singular redemption” because the latter speaks of the sufficiency of Christ’s death to save everyone.

Into which of Dr. Lemke’s two categories would the following statement on the atoning work of Christ fit?

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.

This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

This sounds like Dr. Lemke’s “softer Calvinism” does it not? It sounds like the antithesis of his depiction of Dortian “hyper-Calvinism.” Guess where it comes from? Some of you recognized it immediately, even though you are not professional theologians. These words come from the Canons of Dort–Second Head of Doctrine, Articles 3 and 4.

There is more of this kind of misrepresentation to be found in Dr. Lemke’s treatment of Calvinism in the SBC. Quite honestly, I am growing wearing of exposing it all. I take no pleasure in this kind of writing. But I take great offense when pastors and churches are slanderously mischaracterized, especially by those who should know better, more especially still by those whose salaries are paid by the very churches they falsely accuse.

I am not sure if I will continue my critique next week or merely sum up with some reflections of what these kinds of unjustified attacks are doing to the unity of the SBC. The phone calls, emails and posted responses to these observations the last few days have only confirmed my awareness of the rising frustration that many, primarily younger pastors and church leaders within the SBC, have with the unjustified, unChristlike attacks on that which we–together with the founders of the SBC–believe and teach. I–we–welcome theological discussion, even of the most animated and strongest sort. We do not think that we have everything figured out and cannot be instructed any further in the truth. We not only are willing but genuinely desire to be helped with our deficiencies. But if denominational leaders and employees sincerely want to be of help to us, these kinds of careless castigations should stop.

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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