I stopped my evaluation of Steve Lemke’s article (that Bobby Welch commended as a fine treatment of Calvinism and the Great Commission) primarily because the kinds of historical and theological mistakes that it contains tend to be repeated throughout the remainder of the 4th part of his paper. Others have sufficiently debunked his statistical musings. His treatment of the altar call begs to be addressed…but I am resisting the temptation to do so (at least at this point). As I mentioned before, I take no delight in this kind of writing and wish it were not necessary. If scholars and denominational leaders would simply be more careful in their critiques of views with which they disagree, then there would be no need for this type of response. May the Lord help us all to do so.
Here are my summary thoughts on this matter.
1. The day of unquestioned assertions is over. With ready access to important primary sources the scholar’s guild no longer should expect to make gratuitous assertions about historical and theological issues and expect them to be accepted on the mere basis of some kind of supposed scholarly authority. Twentyfive years ago a seminary professor could assert (as one of mine did) that “The Synod of Dort affirmed hyper-Calvinism,” and not worry that too many people would be able immediately to refute him. Today, anyone with internet access can expose that falsehood in minutes. This is a good thing and should make everyone a more careful student, speaker and writer.
2. Those Southern Baptist employees whose salaries are paid by Southern Baptist churches should at least exercise care in how they characterize their employers. One of the major arguments of the conservative resurgence in the SBC was that it is immoral to expect Southern Baptists to keep paying the salaries of those who ridicule and and misrepresent the convictions of the churches who send their money to the cooperative program. The legitimacy of that argument has not lessened now that conservatives have replaced liberals in those offices of denominational service. As several of the comments on this blog have indicated, this kind of disrespect breeds distrust and frustration. Inaccurate and unjustified criticism of those who believe what the founders of the SBC believed about salvation will result in the disenfranchisement of many Southern Baptist pastors and churches.
3. The leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention should recognize that many churches and pastors–especially younger pastors–in the convention are growing very weary of the lack of authenticity that comes through in their touting of numbers, largeness and programs. It smacks of triumphalism and a growing number are finding it increasingly off-putting. If SBC leadership wants everyone to jump up and down about the prospect of baptizing a million people in the next 12 months, then first convince us that you are willing to speak honestly about the ten million who have already been baptized but rarely, if ever, even show up on a Sunday morning in our churches. Get honest about our denominational statistics. 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. If that pattern is deemed acceptable to denominational leadership, then they at least should realize that it is not acceptable to many of us who are hold our Baptist convictions dear because we find them rooted in the Scripture. That is, many Southern Baptist pastors and churches genuinely believe in the baptism of diciples alone. Many of us still believe in a regenerate church membership as a principle of Baptist church life. The bloated statistics of the SBC are a veneer that conceals serious doctrinal and spiritual problems. It is time for Southern Baptists to drop the facade and to confront the problems directly, with humility and submission to the Word of God. This is not a Calvinist issue. This is a Christian and Baptist issue.
4. There is undoubtedly a growing doctrinal reformation afoot in the SBC. Despite the efforts of scandalous opponents like Baptistfire.com, this reformation continues to grow. Will Southern Baptist inerrantists who are not convinced that the theology of our denomination’s founders is biblical be willing to accept those inerrantists who do? A few denominational leaders have stated that they are very glad to work with their fellow Southern Baptists who are reformed in theology (though these leaders themselves do not share that view). This spirit is commendable and helps generate the kind of trust and goodwill that promote genuine Christian unity. But in order for this trust and goodwill to grow, then those leaders must be willing to renounce serious and inflammatory misrepresentations of Calvinism and Calvinists such as Steve Lemke and Bobby Welch have promulgated.
For years people have said that “Calvinism is going to be the next big debate in the SBC.” Lots of speculation has swirled about this question. I have no idea what will happen. But I do have an opinion on what could happen. If denominational employees and leaders continue to accuse Southern Baptist Calvinists of heresy, then the prospect of having a meaningful discussion over the issues will be seriously reduced.