Tom Ascol, the director of Founders has posted the first of a two-part response to Bobby Welch and Steve Lemke on his blog. I wrote (scroll down) on Bobby Welch’s article in his church newsletter where he portrays Calvinists (those holding to Reformed theology), particularly Baptist Calvinists as ineffective in and even unconcerned with evangelism. He talks about numbers (of course) – baptisms, memberships, etc. – displaying the flawed thinking that such numbers are the only barometer for kingdom effectiveness and biblical fidelity. Ascol’s response is very good. There’s another good response by Joe Thorn.
Welch leans on a paper presented by Dr. Steve Lemke of New Orleans Seminary, in which Lemke outlines several areas of concern for Southern Baptists as they head into the future. Some of these concerns are legitimate – such as Lemke’s call for churches to remain committed to biblical inerrancy and doctrine in the face of challenges from egalitarians (the issue of the roles of men and women), open theists (who deny God’s omniscience / foreknowledge), and inclusivists/pluralists (who deny that faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation).
At other times, however, Lemke just doesn’t make sense. Lemke’s second point, for example, is the necessity for church members to live under biblical authority. And of course he’s right in principle. But as it turns out he chooses to focus on two positions that are not at all issues of biblical authority! He writes about how, in the old days, baptists just knew it was wrong to drink (or even participate in the sale of alcohol?) and dance. These are, for Lemke, the hot button issues of biblical authority?!? Nowhere does the Bible prohibit alocohol (just drunkenness) or dancing! There are plenty of more pretinent issues where Christians need to be reminded of biblical authority (issues of money, sex, gluttony, etc.). Is Lemke longing for “the good old days” and just out of touch?
In his third point he talks about the importance of biblical ecclesiology (and it is really important and really hurting these days!). After rightly reminding us of the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper being properly understood and practiced, he turns his guns on the offices of the church. He notes that in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 the two offices of the New Testament are pastor and deacon. He then takes a thinly veiled potshot and John Piper and other reformed baptists in saying, “Many young ministers… have followed pied Pipers from other denominations to add another office of elder.” He goes on to argue that he has no right to arbitrarily change the offices delineated in Scripture – confusing plurality of elder leadership with Presbyterian church government. Surely a scholar like Lemke knows that the Greek terms “pastor,” “bishop,” and “elder” denote one and the same office!!! The New Testament evidence is clear in supporting pastor/elder leadership (the word is basically always used in the plural in the NT). Given Lemke’s admirable concern for doctrine and biblical authority, one would think he would be more careful here, or at least charitable to those who don’t agree with his interpretation. As it turns out he sounds more concerned with preserving the “way we’ve always done it.”
In part 4, Lemke takes on Calvinism, and it is here that Bobby Welch jumped on board in his church newsletter (link in the previous post). Lemke seems to confuse traditional Calvinism (the familiar acronymn TULIP) with hyper-Calvinism, calling the Founders guys (would he apply the label to the actual founders?) hyper-Calvinist. As an alternative he presents Timothy George’s “softer” Calvinism and the acronymn ROSES (this is p14 of the paper). I find in these modifications a flawed understanding of “total depravity,” which means not that human beings are as bad as we can possibly be, but that our depravity corrupts the totality of our being – everything about us is depraved by sin.
A hyper-Calvinist, as commonly understood, is someone who takes the doctrines of grace (election, etc.) to the extreme conclusion that evangelism is unnecessary and inappropriate. Hyper-Calvinists would say, with those who tried to dissuade the great missionary pioneer William Carey, that “God can save the heathen if he wants to.” Lemke sees traditional Calvinist (or Augustinian – it’s not like Calvin invented it) teaching as necessarily “hyper,” a position which is either a misunderstanding or a blatant mischaracterization for rhetorical purposes. As for the study comparing the evangelistic “results” of Founders churches with “other” SBC churches, I addressed that in my previous post. The “study” is beset by a horribly flawed methodology and draws unwarranted conclusions. (It is ironic that, in his next section, Lemke notes that the vast majority of SBC churches have under 200 members… casting them in the same bucket with the Founders churches he chastises).
I think Lemke is genuinely concerned about he health and growth of the Southern Baptist Convention and about the Kingdom of God in general. I just think that, at times, he leans on tradition as much as Scripture. Hopefully his paper will continue to generate discussion that moves beyond straw men and towards constructive dialogue about the issues that matter. I echo Tom Ascol’s wish that some SBC leader would stand up and say that sheer numeric growth is not the only (or best?) way to measure success for churches.