Wednesday, August 03, 2005

It's those doggone Calvinists!

Back on July 10, 2005, Bobby Welch wrote an article in his church's newsletter. The article was about how Calvinism has allegedly affected evangelism (the Great Commission, in particular). As you may know, Welch is the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention and the author of the widely-used "F.A.I.T.H." method of evangelism and church growth. To start his answer, he deferred to a recent paper written by Dr. Steve W. Lemke, Provost and Professor at New Orleans Baptist Theology Seminary. That paper, titled "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals" was:
a paper originally presented at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee, April 2005 at the "Maintaining Baptist Distinctives" Conference. Lemke addresses what he considers to be 6 key issues as he thinks about the future of the SBC.
For the remainder of the article, Welch (with Lemke's help) basically attributes the decline of baptisms across the SBC spectrum to those pastors and churches who adhere to the Doctrines of Grace. This is a horribly misinformed and overly simplistic answer. The data given by Dr. Lemke is flawed. Too many questions are left unanswered. My biggest beef is Dr. Lemke's allusions that link biblical Calvinism with heretical hyper-calvinism. They are NOT the same thing. I despise hyper-calvinism and will battle it when I see it. To paint the Founders Ministry (and me) with that broad a brush is horrible scholarship. I could just as easily generalize that all Arminians are really Open Theists. That is a seemingly logical conclusion but it would not be accurate.

I have posted below the links necessary to understand all this. First read Welch's article and then to get the full picture, cruise through Lemke's address. After that, I hope you'll read the responses from the Founders Ministry of the SBC (a group that adheres to the reformed doctrine of salvation and calls for a return to the SBC's Calvinistic roots - that's right, the SBC was thoroughly Calvinistic in its first several decades).

Bobby Welch's initial newsletter article

Dr. Steve Lemke's article that prompted Welch's article

Response from Founders Ministry - Part 1

Response from Founders Ministry - Part 2

Response from Founders Ministry - Part 3

Response from Founders Ministry - Part 4

Lemke's response to Founders and Founders rejoinder

There is no doubt that all of us (myself chiefly) should be concerned about our evangelism (or lack thereof). However, I am just as concerned about all the baptisms that ARE taking place in our Southern Baptist churches. So many churces are willing to baptize for the slightest reason (and even re-baptize again and again). Ascol says, "Admit the truth, that we have far fewer disciples than we have baptisms, which means that we are baptizing a whole bunch of people who are not disciples."

Lemke uses statistics to show that non-Calvinistic churches (really a nice way to avoid saying "semi-Pelagian) have a church member to baptism ratio of 1:42 while Calvinistic churches have a ratio of 1:62. That might sound like a lot but it is not. I would like to see the results of THIS study: what is the ratio of baptized people still active in each of these churches (or any church, for that matter) one to two years later. Isn't that a statistic that should matter the most?


Jim Pemberton said...

One of the issues I find I need to clarify most when I debate Calvinism is the difference between Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism. Many people in our post-modern society have a tough time with it even after I've explained it.

Perhaps the most fruitful application of Calvinism is the attitude we must have of utter submission to God. To defend the notion that human will is autonomous and has anything to do with salvation is to fail to submit to God and give Him the glory for having accomplished anything in us.

A good text is John 21:18,19. After we see Peter is broken and no longer declares his willingness to be sacrificed for Christ though everyone else fails, Jesus indicates the death that glorifies God. I've always heard this preached that Jesus was talking about Peter eventually being crucified upside down. However, that's nowhere in the text and the account of Peter's martyrdom is extra-bibilical. The text says that while Peter once walked according to his own will, as he matures he will submit to the will of another. The death that glorifies God, therefore, is the death of the human will. Peter, under his own will (albeit not autonomously), failed to live up to even his own expectations and denied Christ for fear of his life. However, as he submitted to God he eventually suffered physical death in the name of Christ.

This is the kind of teaching that encourages lasting commitment to God. In Calvinistic terms, it's the kind of teaching that God uses to change our hearts for His glory.

Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

Nathan White said...

I don't know if you've seen this or not, but check out for some discussion about the SBC and Calvinim. It's been a pretty lively discussion...