President Bobby Welch, Dr. Steve Lemke, Southern Baptists and Calvinism, Pt. 1


July 10, 2005, just in time for the 23rd Annual Founders Conference that met in Ormond Beach, Florida, Southern Baptist Convention President, Bobby Welch posted an article in the newsletter of the First Baptist Church of Daytona, where he serves as pastor. The title of his article is “Calvinism and Christ’s Great Commission.” Here is how the article begins:

Some one asked me, “How does Calvinism and great commission evangelism connect?” Likely no clearer answer could be given than Dr. Steve W. Lemke, Provost and Professor at New Orleans Baptist Theology Seminary, gave in a recent scholarly paper. Complete paper is on our web site www.FirstBaptist.Org(under Weekly Newsletter) Following is an excerpt:…

The timing of this article is probably just a coincidence. Perhaps Brother Bobby (as he prefers to be called) had no idea that the Founders Conference was in town. To my knowledge, he did not attend. But regardless of the timing, the content of Dr. Lemke’s article leaves much to be desired in terms of scholarship, analysis and fairness. The title of it is “The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals.” It 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. Some of the issues he identifies may indeed be important for Southern Baptists to consider as they contemplate their collective identity in the American evangelical world. However, I find his analysis too often to be superficial in addressing those issues.

For example, the second issue he identifies is “Biblical Authority.” He asks, “Will Southern Baptists submit their lives and opinions on the authority of Scripture, or will cultural and pragmatic pressures force us to ‘reinterpret’ the Bible?” So, far, so good. Dr. Lemke whets our appetite for an insightful analysis of the ways that pragmatism has undermined biblical living in our personal lives, homes and churches. But then he disappoints by aiming his guns on drinking and dancing.

“Even if we pay lip service to the divine inspiration and truthfulness of Scripture, will we place our lives under the authority of the Word of God? Just since I’ve been alive, Southern Baptists have moderated their stand on a number of issues. In each of these issues, we said we took that stand because it was being faithful to Scripture. For example, when I was growing up, many Baptist churches had something called a “Church Covenant” either posted at the front of the sanctuary or printed in the hymnal. This Church Covenant summarized the biblical commitments required for meaningful church membership. Among other things that were in this document that are often ignored today, this Church Covenant called for church members to not only refrain from the use of alcoholic beverages, but from their sale as well. How consistently is this practiced in Baptist life today? When is the last time you heard a sermon addressing how we keep our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20)?”

Please. Of all of the vitally important issues taken up in J. Newton Brown’s popular Church Covenant, for Dr. Lempke to camp out on drinking alchohol is very disappointing. I write as a “tee-totaler” who would be happy if everyone else in the world was one, too. But it boggles the mind of anyone who is half-awake to the horrible spiritual state of Southern Baptist Churches why this issue (along with dancing–which is not even mentioned in the covenant) was singled out to the neglect of matters like church discipline, pursuit of holiness, family worship, evangelism and missions!

The typical Southern Baptist church cannot get even half of its membership to show up regularly for worship! “Yeah, well, but it sure would be better if they never sipped wine!” Dr. Lemke’s facile treatment of the issue of pragmatism is in itself a testimony to how serious the problem is. I keep waiting for some Southern Baptist leader to stand up and declare honestly to the world that our denominational statistics are in many respects a sham, a lie and false advertising. We are not “16 million strong.” The FBI could not find half of them if we put them on the most wanted list. Take Brother Bobby’s church, which is above average, for example. According to their website, their total membership is 4000 and average attendance is 2000 (I assume this latter number reflects the Sunday morning worship attendance and not the Wednesday night prayer meeting attendance). The typical Southern Baptist church has less than 40% of its total membership in attendance on any given Sunday MORNING.

Why would Dr. Lempke be more concerned about prospect that Southern Baptists are attending proms and imbibing wine coolers than he is that we cannot even get half of them to attend worship once a week? For a more thoughtful analysis of this question, see Jim Eliff’s article on the Founders website entitled, “Southern Baptists, An Unregenerate Denomination.” Or read the Baptist Press version of it.

My greatest problem with Dr. Lemke’s article, however, has to do with his misrepresentation of Calvinism in general and Founders Ministries in particular. I plan to deal with that later this week.

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17 Responses to “President Bobby Welch, Dr. Steve Lemke, Southern Baptists and Calvinism, Pt. 1”

  1. As a Southern Baptist pastor who is committed to the doctrines of grace and has a desire to evangelize, I have been very discouraged by the statements of Bobby Welch, Johnny Hunt and Adrian Rogers about Calvinism. I respect each of these men and appreciate their ministries in many ways. But I don’t understand why they feel they must erradicate Calvinists from the Convention.

  2. Hmm… I will be interested in reading your coming comments about his treatment of Calvinism and the Founders effort.

    As one friendly in dispositon to the work of the Founders and an attendee of said conference I don’t recall anything that stood out as antagonistic or unfair direct at Founders.

    Perhaps I remember incorrectly. I’ve been wrong before.

  3. Funny how our pulpits condemn Ken Lay & Enron for deceitful accounting that made the books look good… but never apply the same critique to the magic 16 million member number.

  4. Welch is concerned with Lemke’s finding that the ratio of baptisms-to-members is so much less in Founders churches than in Arminian SBC churches. However, I wonder what he would think of the actual attendees-to-member ratio compared between the two types of churches? And maybe we’d have more baptisms and members if we tickled the ears of the ungodly more often. Numbers mean nothing. What is important is preaching the whole counsel of God–without which no real evangelism can be done.

  5. Tom, glad to see this here and I look forward to reading your next piece. Dr. Lemke actually commented on my blog and invited interaction with his paper. I wound up addressing some of what you have here as well as the misrepresentation of Calvinism. I will be directing people to your posts.

  6. Dr. Lemke posted a comment on my blog and tried to clarify himself at length. The problem is the way that some of his article is being used and quoted.

  7. Thanks for addressing these issues. The whole thing gives me a headache and I’m glad to see a straightforward and clear response. I do wish there were SBC leaders with the courage to stand up and speak to some of these issues as clearly. I’m linking this on my blog.

  8. William (and those who read my earlier comment in this thread)- I read the article you posted on your site and apparently I missed the session where this paper was presented. If it was during a break out session I probably attended another session.

    My thoughts after having read it:
    1. I grant that his statistics cited are not presented in the fairest sense. It would have been appropriate to present members-to-attendance figures as well as the ones he did.

    Having said that, I think the Founders Ministry is the victim of guilt by association here. The value of the effort is being mesaured by the results of congregations who Founders has no direct control over. That is a poor standard of evaluation.

    I would also like to hope that the figures Lemke cited challenges those of us friendly toward the Founders effort to be about the task of evangelism.

  9. I think that we would all agree that we Calvinists tend to have smaller churches than non-Reformed churches, but is that because we are “hyper” in our Calvinism or is it because we are “careful” in our evangelism?
    Furthermore, these two pastor/professors should know that churches should be individually considered for their positions, practices, and beliefs. As usual, another SB “professor” thinks that numbers tell it all. If numbers tell it all Dr. Lemke then let’s follow the “smiling preacher’s” example in Houston Texas. Let’s get rid of our Bibles, crosses, hymn books, and never talk about sin, guilt, shame, or judgment, and then we will all certainly have bigger crowds and more baptisms.
    Finally, I (nor any Reformed minded believer that I know) didn’t “choose” to believe Calvinism because it was popular or would or would not grow my church. If I were just “choosing” a theology to believe I would choose the one that everyone likes, so I could have a big business (oops, I mean church, right) and have lots of money and be interviewed by Larry King and CNN, but I didn’t “choose” these doctrines for that reason. I (we) believe these doctrines because they are true. By choosing to believe these truths, we are outcasts in many circles, so who would choose them without truly believing them? No one in their right mind would! I do believe that just like there are extreme Arminians there are also extreme Calvinists, but I am not defined by the extremes. I am defined by the Bible, and the last time I checked, the Bible teaches these truths, so if believing these truths means that I have a smaller church, so be it.

  10. >>>As usual, another SB “professor” thinks that numbers tell it all.

    The trouble with numbers is that they do tell it all…but the “all” they tell is that which they directly report. If you report only part of the story, the “all” the numbers tell is confined to the “all” of the data collected, not “all the data.” Of course for folks who think “all” means all,” and we all know who they are, might be expected to make generalizations much too broad.

    Where are the numbers for recidivism to persons baptized in Lemke’s paper? Short answer: Nowhere.

    Where are the age adjusted numbers (how many were 5 yr old children for example)? Nowhere

    How many of these were coming from paedobaptist churches and only baptized to conform to credobaptist practice? These folks are already regenerate, presumably, so we can’t say they are new converts.

    Where are the numbers viz a viz attendance to membership? (Hint, Reformed churches typically are closer to 1:1 on this)

    How many of those persons baptized in a larger church were members of their church plants all of whose membership rolls are sometimes held by the mother church until that church is fully autonomous, if any, and so on…
    Short answer: Nowhere

    Notice that Footnote 13 does not link to a report anybody can actually verify. This is shoddy work. Rule one of citing statistics in a paper is to provide your audience with the data itself, not simply your analysis of the data. I can’t tell you how many times they drilled this into us in my graduate classes in public health. I’m not saying this is dishonest. I want to be clear here. I’m saying it amounts to reporting non-verifiable data. You never, ever use statistics and not tell folks, at a minimum, where they can view them. The CDC never, ever publishes an MMWR that does not include the stats and their explanation.

    Baptism statistics show, well, baptisms. However, that is no more a measure of conversion than birth statistics are a measure of total pregnancies. Likewise, the number of pregnancies in a population group is not a measure of, you know, “drives” in the sample group.

    In other words: Let’s imagine a report that was to be published using US birth stats (I used to do stats in public health, so I’m familar with this topic) like this:

    Women 20 -25…100 surveyed, 95 live births

    Women 25 – 30…100 surveyed, 90 live births

    The birth rate among group one was .95, group two, .9; all women in all groups and ages, the average rate was .88

    That means that and ONLY that.

    It does not mean, “Based on these numbers, the sex drives of women aged 25 – 30 are less than those of the younger women.,” nor does the second statistic mean that the sex drives of women in the younger age group is greater than that of all other women everywhere. It only means that the birth rate among women in that sample are represented, and, even if the cumulative sample (and thus all subsets in it) are statistically representative of the entire US population of women (eg. “significant”), the data is restricted to birth rate and birth rate alone, not to sexual habits or sex drive of all US women.! It may have implications for pre-natal care or have to do with the age or health of the women surveyed and so on. The numbers should be taken from women in similar economic classes. Likewise, others would examine race; access to health care, and so on …so, to take baptism stats or membership stats and make a broad, sweeping assertion that Calvinistic churches are somehow less evangelistic or that their members die on the vine is simply out of order.

    Those statisitics in his report are restricted to those churches for those reporting periods alone. Likewise, notice the comparison: 233 individual churches to THE ENTIRE CONVENTION. My Epidemiology professor would have a heart attack to see such a thing. A more appropriate sample of a similar size and composition might yield a very different result. Is the whole convention a representative sample of churches or literally all churches? What of the churches that were not surveyed or didn’t report at all, etc.? Were the pastors of the 233 churches given an opportunity to respond? How did they respond? Even when you hear stats like” compared to all women in all age groups, HIV infection is higher among this group” statisitics, the numbers are set against a representative sample, they are not extrapolated into the entire population. “All women” is “all the women in the survey.” Likewise, when comparing rates to the literal whole population of the US, the “literal whole US population” is still, in reallity, “a statistically representative sample” of the US population, not “the whole US population.”

    Reading these statistics, I’m reminded of the days when this same kind of reporting strategy was used to speak of the giving of the moderate churches. The smaller churches, many of which were moderate, gave (and this is and was true among the smaller conservative churches too) greater percentages of their budgets to the Cooperative Program. The Conservative leadership in the early years often pointed to the raw dollars that their churches gave, and the statistics were often cited in the same way as Pres. Welch has to insinuate the moderate churches were “less cooperative” or “giving less” than the conservative churches. Yes, in raw dollars that was so…but who’s giving more: the church that gives 30 percent of its budget to the CP or 4 percent? Who’s giving more: the church giving $30,000 or the church giving $300,000. You see…such statistics can be used to paint the pictures we want. Honestly, and I say this having worked with these sorts of studies for a long time…it would pay the SBC, if they actually wish to gather real data to pay an independent firm to do the work, one that knows how these things work and one that can interpret the data free without being so sloppy and who can contextualize the data.

  11. I agree with what Gene has written. I have the same concerns for the recent study done by Dr. Thom Rainer and its use to malign CBF churches. It’s shoddy “research.”

    It is sad to read what some Southern baptist preachers are saying about Calvinism. Adrian Rogers and Bobby Welch among others, are the ones who are showing either their ignorance of the doctrines of grace or their stubborness to accept what the Bible clearly and plainly states.

    I read the article of Mr. Welch about his concerns regarding the future of the Southern Baptist Convention, only to find it a very disappointing one. Amazingly he confuses traditional Reformed doctrine with HYPER-CALVINISM. Where he learned that? I have been a Reformed believer for only 7 SHORT MONTHS but I can tell at the outset that Mr. Welch is full of bias against Calvinism.

    His reference to Timothy George’s redefinition of TULIP, now ROSES as supposedly more accurate and the best definition of biblical Calvinism, is simply pathetic!! I remember the efforts of Norman Geisler in trying to do the same and he looked terrible flawed. Well, I think Mr. Welch has carried his REDEFINITION one step further. It is OK if he does not agree with Reformed doctrine, he can take it out of the pages of scripture if he so desires. He can laugh at it all he wants. But what is not right to do is MISREPRESENT IT.

    I believe arminians need to be honest (That is why I am not one of them anymore!!). They need to face the biblical data with honesty and not with bias or prejudice. It is not edifying to try to hide the facts and to say something that IS NOT TRUE.

    Daviel DePaz

  13. Well, I am a little late on the uptake here, and, therefore, will probably not be read. Nevertheless, I had to throw in my two cents.

    As a Calvinist pastor of an SBC church in Kentucky, I can confess that all is not well among our congregation. There are many factors which can explain Lemke’s observations of the 233 Founders
    Friendly churches.

    The previous stastical analysis by Gene makes the case well. In addition, I would only like to add that my experience has shown that Calvinistic pastors tend to stay in difficult churches longer. Most of the Calvinist pastors I know are not looking for the next big church on the menu. They are committed to the application of the Word of God to the everyday lives of ordinary people. They desire to see God’s glory manifested in forgotten places of ministry as well as in the hot spots of population growth.

    Furthermore, of the 233 churches Lemke surveyed, how many have been Founders Friendly for more than five or ten years? How many of those same churches were already in a state of decline before being led to the truths of the Doctrines of Grace by a godly pastor? Why can we not accept that the church belongs to a Sovereign God who alone can bring it health, revival, and growth?

  14. Anonymous

    Hello Everyone,

    Greetings in Christ,


    To say that a certain doctrine is wrong because of the number adherents it has is simply misleading. Not many followed Christ during his ministry on earth. He called his followers “a small fold”. He also said “many are called, but FEW are chosen”. Furthermore, in our day, there are false christian ministries (and preachers) that are growing at a very fast pace, Does that mean that they have ‘good’ theology? A quick look at the kinds of gospels they preach will soon indicate the opposite. Their message is seriously flawed – something to think about. But since others have commented about that particular issue, I would like concentrate in the theological basis and interpretation given to “reject” Calvinism (TULIP) which by the way, has being also wrongly labeled “hypercalvinism”.

    I will leave you with this brief analysis on what “most Baptists believe” about the doctrine of salvation as defined by the acronym ‘ROSES’ by Steve Lempke:

    “agrees that we can do nothing to save ourselves, but affirms that
    humans are not totally evil because we retain the image of God despite our fallenness”

    My Comment: The term “total depravity” does NOT negate that men retains God’s image after the soul nor does it mean that men are as bad as they can be but that his “total” being has being touched by sin and ‘therefore’ every aspect of him is contaminated by sin. Therefore anything that has being contaminated by sin by definition “is not good enough”. The Bible clearly affirms ‘total depravity’ (Jer. 17; Rom. 3:9-11)

    “overcoming grace (or effectual calling) affirms that God accomplishes
    salvation, but differs in that rather than salvation being a mechanical and deterministic process, it
    allows for human responsiveness to God’s persistent wooing”

    My Comment: This is simply funny. A grace that depends on human response is simply NOT overcoming. The problem with this interpretation lies with the fact that the Bible is very clear that men WILL NOT respond to God’s persistent wooing (Gen. 6, 8; Acts 7:51). Men will ONLY come to Christ when their stony – unregenerate – uncircumcised hearts have been soften by regeneration, born again by the word and circumcised by the Holy Spirit. No person wants to, can, or wills to come to “respond” to Christ’s offer apart from being made alive by the Grace of God and given the faith to believe. (Eph. 2:5-8)

    In contrast to the double predestinarianism of unconditional election, “sovereign election allows for a genuine human accountability to respond to God.”

    My Comment: First of all to deny “unconditional election” is to affirm “conditional election”, there is no ‘in-between’. To say that, is to say that salvation is based on the merits of men. However, the ONLY reason to choose someone based on conditional election would be based on “man’s faith”, but that is also impossible because the Bible clearly says that BUT unregenerate man wills not, to come to Christ that he may receive life. The unregenerate man Does not understand the spiritual things for are foolishness unto him. In addition “belief” is granted by God (Phil. 1:29) , that it is a gift of God (Eph. 2), and the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5). So, for anyone to be elected based on faith, that person must have been first being elected by God to receive faith (and faith is not of all according to the Bible) which means that salvation must be by necessity “unconditional” and THAT is what the Bible teaches – THAT is REAL Grace!

    To say that we are saved by Grace does not mean that does who are not elect unto salvation from the foundation of the world are not “genuinely” accountable to God for their actions. Men (if he wanted to) would come to God, but the Bible clearly teaches, “he cannot come” (John 6:44) because “he does not want to” (Rom. 8:7). Does that make men not “genuinely” accountable? Absolutely NOT! To those who could not come to Jesus because they did not want to come to Him since they loved their sin more and loved darkness more (John 3:20) than light Jesus said “my words will judge (condemn) you in the last day” (John 12:48). They are 100% accountable to God!

    “The phrase “perseverance of the saints” might suggest that although we are saved by grace, we are kept by our good works. The phrase “Once saved, always saved” could suggest that we could claim Christ as Savior without making Him Lord of our lives. George prefers eternal life or eternal security to convey the scriptural truth of the assurance of the believer.”

    My Comment: The truth is that God’s children persevere to the end – and that is a requisite of the Bible and is a manifest fruit of true salvation. We are safe in God’s hand “AND” we obey him (follow him faithfully- ie. Persevere in faith- John 10, 1 John 2:4). Christ said “by their fruits you should know them”- perseverance is the fruit of true salvation (ie. Election) (John 15:16). The difference is that our perseverance is worked in us through the Holy Spirit. It does not come from man’s efforts (or man’s will) but from God who “puts in us to will and to do” (Phil 2:13). Only those who persevere faithfully trusting in Christ are said to be God’s household. Only those that are saved persevere and they persevere because they have been saved. SOLI DEO GLORIA!

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

    My Comment: Reformed faith does not question the sufficiency of Christ death. It simply repeats the words of the Bible where it states that Christ came to save “his people” (Matt 1:21), that he puts his life down for “his sheep” (John 10:11), that his blood was to be shed “for many” (Is. 53; Matt 26:28, etc.). In any case by affirming “singular” redemption, this “S” also states that redemption is NOT “plural” (NOT for everyone). Also, to say that the death of Christ is efficient “only for those who repent and believe” is to limit salvation to those who are “capable” and limit it from those who are not capable (babies, little children, retarded people, etc.). Faith and Repentance are both gifts of God as stated in Scripture and they do not bring about GRACE but manifest what God has done in men instead – that GRACE has been given!

    In conclusion, ROSES is NOT “Softer Calvinism”, it’s just another re-statement of “Arminianism” (again).

    Here is what Spurgeon (a Baptist preacher) thought about TULIP:

    In Christ,

    Jorge L. Trujillo


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