The Resurgence of Steve Lemke’s Argument Against Calvinism

I went to the bookstore the other day to pick up the latest copy of Christianity Today only to find that the August edition is still out, so it is obvious that the only information I have received about the cover story about the resurgence of Calvinism is through secondary sources. Another source came yesterday, as Tom Ascol shared his thoughts on the article.

One part of the article I had not heard was the comments made by Dr. Steve Lemke who once against took opportunity to argue the historically fallacious position that a firm belief in the doctrines of grace somehow diminishes a passion for missions and evangelism. Dr. Ascol has addressed Lemke’s “white paper” in a series of blogposts, so it is not necessary to rehash his rebuttal to Lemke. However, what is interesting is Lemke’s renewed commitment to being wrong after having been debunked with a humble, honest, and open critique of his poor research and faulty conclusions. When one holds to a position that is obviously in error and still refuses to admit it, there is something motivating and driving that impulse other than the truth, for if one would square with the truth, these perpetuating statements wouldn’t surface in print media. Many have experienced such a case in Dave Hunt’s attempts to dismantle Calvinism after having been rebutted time and again by James White, refusing open discussion or debate of Scripture or history. Being in such a predicament is neither desirable nor virtuous, so one must hope that hearing the other side of the story from an objective perspective would change one’s disposition, if not position altogether.

In the Christianity Today article, Lemke makes the following comment.

“For many people, if they’re convinced that God has already elected those who will be elect … I don’t see how humanly speaking that can’t temper your passion, because you know you’re not that crucial to the process.”

For the life of me, I do not understand how Lemke can make such a demonstrable error to think that a conviction to unconditional election equals a tempered passion for reaching the lost. Calvinists actually believe in evangelism and the gospel more than Arminians because they believe God has not only ordained the ends (salvation) but the means (the preaching of the gospel) as well. They also believe that God does not just make salvation possible but actually saves sinners, and uses His people in the process. The God who draws sinners by an effectual call also infuses a passion within the heart of the Christian to preach the gospel. That is why Paul, who believed that God had chosen those would be saved before the foundation of the world could also exclaim, “Woe to me if I don’t preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16, cf. Rom. 9:3; 10:1). I have addressed this in greater detail, including the references to Dr. Lemke’s paper in an article called “Corrupted Evangelism and the Recovery of Means.” To argue that Calvinists believe they are not crucial to the process is to tacitly acknowledge that one knows little about evangelical Calvinism.

I guess my point regarding Dr. Lemke and others who have disagreements with Calvinism is this: if you disagree with Calvinism personally, that’s fine. No problem here. But when you attempt to explain why you disagree without the witness of church history (and Baptist history in particular) and biblical support, it is hard to accept your disagreements as plausible. Sure, Christianity Today will include you in their print articles, but what does that mean anyway?

Explore posts in the same categories: Evangelism, General, Southern Baptist Convention

16 Comments on “The Resurgence of Steve Lemke’s Argument Against Calvinism”

  1. Carla Rolfe Says:

    It means (more or less) that the age old practice of defending traditions – no matter how easily proven wrong (Dave Hunt is but just one example), is still in play today.

    Pray for these men, that the Lord might be pleased to open their eyes to His sovereignty in salvation.


  2. Nathan White Says:

    But Timmy! Calvinists don’t generally give altar calls, sinner’s prayers, ‘raise your hand sign this card’ salvation, they don’t have a fire-truck baptistry, they sometimes don’t baptize children as young as 3, they sometimes could care less about numbers, they don’t state goals like ‘baptize a million’….

    What do you mean they are passionate about evangelism??

    The root issue here, besides God being in control of salvation, is the philosophy of ministry that MUST change when we embrace the doctrines of grace. A whole lot of people like to talk about reforming the SBC without really making a huge deal out of the Calvinism issue, and unfortunately, I hate to say it to you, but it’s hopeless without that foundation.

    These men see their methods of easy-believeism and the numbers that these methods produce, and they simply compare them to the numbers in which they see among the Calvinists. Until their understanding of salvation and God’s sovereignty is changed, they will never concede that we are as evangelistic as they are.

    Good post.


  3. Lempke is either not a credible scholar or he is simply towing the line for the president of NOBTS. Dr. Kelley has gone on record warning against the spread of Calvinism and its effect on diminished evangelism.

    Does anything good come out of New Orleans? (Joke with half seriousness! I’m a former student of NOBTS. Don’t send me any hate mail!)

  4. Gene Says:

    These are unwise comments from him at a time when (a) many of his colleagues there are Calvinists now and (b) they have recently had problems with one of their adjucts in Alabama if I recall, because he started down that path in public and the folks to whom he said it were none to pleased and set about refuting him. If I recall, another one of their adjuncts was among that group.

    I’m beginning to think that what needs to happen is a series of public debates within the SBC on the campuses of the seminaries with the best scholarship represented. Let the students and the locals attend, then release the CD’s and DVD’s and the books (you know books would be written) throughout the Convention.

    Okay, so that will never happen, but, hey, it’s a dream.

  5. Josh Says:

    So the general idea is, then, that THEY don’t actually know what evangelism is? Even though they’ve been pummelling millions of baptists with guilt for a hundred years or so?

    Thats just crazy talk.

    Gene thats not a bad idea. After all, there was a 9/11 commision after that fiasco…

  6. Peter Says:

    “Calvinists actually believe in evangelism and the gospel MORE THAN Arminians because they believe God has not only ordained the ends (salvation) but the means (the preaching of the gospel) as well.” (emphasis mine)

    Ummm…. It seems like you’re making the same mistaken attempt at psychologizing-the-other that Lemke just did about Calvinists, except now you’ve just switched the players.

    Phil Johnson wrote in “Quick-And-Dirty Calvinism”:

    “Non-evangelism. Among more mainstream Calvinists, there are certainly some outstanding men who are earnestly evangelistic (Piper, MacArthur, and even Sproul). But it would be stretching things more than a little bit to insist that modern Calvinism as a movement is known by its passion for evangelism. Where are the Calvinist evangelists? I can think of only one outstanding example: John Blanchard. (There are surely more, but at the moment I can’t think of any other famous Calvinists now living who have devoted their ministries primarily to evangelism).
    Of course, I fully realize that the Arminian caricature of historic Calvinism as anti-evangelistic is a total lie. But one could hardly argue that evangelism is a key feature of modern Calvinism. Neither the writings we produce nor the conferences we hold focus much on evangelism.”

  7. Timmy Says:


    So are you to say that the kind of upsurging Calvinism today is not historic Calvinism? If you answer yes, how so?

    The difficulty with measuring Calvinism today (some would call today’s Calvinism “neo-Calvinism”) is that the primary place of interaction is on a medium where a person’s passion or commitment to evangelism cannot be measured. Some have attempted to use such measuring sticks as determining the percentage of journal articles in the Founders’ Journal that deal with evangelism as to whether they are committed to evangelism. Were that same test applied to any other ministry, journal, or publication (except for missiological journals and magazines of course), no one could be considered evangelistic.

    In the same light, there are many who are measuring evangelism by the faulty stick of baptisms (such as Lemke). I know of a church last year that baptized over 60 people last year with over 2/3 having been baptized before at least once. Furthermore, evangelism and the Great Commission includes baptism but doesn’t end there. I would argue that any quantification of evangelism strickly by measuring church membership or baptism is erroneous on both definitional and functional grounds. We need more accurate and biblical evidences of evangelism taking place in our local churches.

    I am not sure what you mean that I have somehow “psychologized” the other. I made the case that Calvinist believe that God is involved in the whole process of evangelism, from the proclamation to the response of the sinner to repent and trust Christ. How you assert that I have psychologized the other I know not.

    Concerning Phil Johnson’s post, I agree with it wholeheartedly. Actually, I have referred to it already in earlier posts. Unfortunately, I believe you are inserting the aforementioned quote in an unqualified manner with the purpose (I presume) of projecting it either on me (the author) or the Founders Ministry and their respective churches (the subject). Either way, I believe you are sorely mistaken.

    Finally, I have no future intention of doing a tit-for-tat discussion on this thread. If you would like to answer the questions I have mentioned, then please do so. However, I neither have the time nor the interest in a prolonged discussion as has been experienced in precious posts.

  8. Mark Brown Says:

    Lempke, lemke, like most in the SBC is using the wrong measure of spiritual health in the SBC. When I attended Nobts, left about 1 year ago, we had professors throwing statistics at us about the health of the SBC. The most interesting was the DOM in our area who frequently quoted Patterson and Graham about the level of the unsaved in the congregation. the number was about 40-60%. Now this was presented as those who were baptized but unregenerate. When I asked for the source I was told “internal findings etc”.

    That was said to show that the leadership knows that the kind of evangelism the the SBC has been conducting in the last few decades has been faulty. Easy believism etc. The mega church I presently belong to is a prime example of an arminian church practicing arminian evangelism.
    When I joined 7 years ago we had 2200 in Sunday School. Averaged 2600 in worship. We join and baptize 600-800 each year. Those are the low and high years for the last 7 years. We still average 2200 in Sunday School. Now you would think if we added between 4200-5600 we should have, say around 4000 in worship. You need to figure in deaths and transfers. So let us low ball it. But we only average 3000 in worship. Our ushers are told to count their section so that is how we know how many are there. This count excludes only small children. Where are the 3400 – 4600 other new joins? They are on the rolls, most of them. Remember there are deaths and transfers so that number can be too high. But they are not in worship.

    To say big churches are therefore healthy churches is an untruth. Numbers of baptized people is not a sign. The number of people who can tell you they love Jesus is not a sign. (hint you can teach a parrot to say I love Jesus and it means just as much). My mega church does not disciple, teach the bible or call people to repent. I can only remember once in 7 years hearing my pastor call for repenting from the pulpit. If you walk in my church and engage the congregation in discussion, not of Calvinism, but of Jesus and his teaching, be prepared to have your jaw hit the ground.
    Very few of the staff are any better. Good luck getting a response about a theological question (again not about calvinism) but say on the divine and human natures of Christ. While going through Systematic Theology in seminary I had to go to reformed baptist and PCA pastors with questions.
    (again not about calvinism)

    Instead of addressing the problems within the SBC, the past leadership brought out whipping boys to distract the SBC faithfuls attention. Whipping boys like “Calvinist” and the “sipping saints”. Hopefully the new president will address the real problems and correct them.

    Christopher, you asked if anything good has come out of NOBTS? I was already a calvinist when I took Dr Keithlys’ systematic theology classes. I know of 3 young preachers who embraced the doctrines while sitting under his teaching. The outlandish comments he made drove then to research and God in his mercy removed the scales from their eye.

    What was the chant in the Mel Gibson movie Thunderdome “2 go in, 1 comes out.” For sysematic II it was “1 goes in, 4 come out”.

  9. JeremiahBailey Says:

    It is taught in the BGCT curriculum on the Baptist Distinctives, History, and Relationships that “Particular Baptists” (as oposed to General Baptists) opposed the early Baptist Missions movements.

  10. Timmy Says:


    Thanks for sharing. As far as NOBTS goes, I happen to have met several folks who used to go to school there and, by the providential work of God in Katrina are now not only in Louisville and attending SBTS but also are members of the same church and even SS class. They have made a very good impression on me, though have made me aware that their experiences at NOBTS weren’t exactly kosher.

    And what you said concerning the “negative turnout” of those railing against reformed doctrine, one could only hope that such a turn of events could be reproduced in others schools like Liberty due to the upcoming debate.

  11. J. Gray Says:

    Let’s face it, NOBTS isn’t known for its theological prowess.

    Sadly, I think it is a fair representation of the majority of the SBC…the focus is shifted from deep study and theological study to pragmatic workshops and glorified Sunday School.

    If Lemke is demonstrative of their faculty….it simply reiterates the general thought about the school.


    Lemke limps!

    And the more he writes the greater the limp!

    What Bible-believing pastor would send students
    to listen to him and others of his persuasion?

  13. 1 go in, 4 come out… I’ll take those numbers!

  14. Peter Says:

    No, I am not saying that. I am revealing your mistaken “MORE THAN” statement in which you are essentially making the same mistaken statement that Lemke is making in asserting that because Calvinist theology is such and such, therefore they have little evangelistic desires. Except now, you are just switching the players around. Saying because Non-Calvinists don’t believe in such and such, and Calvinists do, therefore Calvinists believe in evangelism and the gospel MORE THAN the Non-Calvinists.
    On the other hand, Nathan White states in this current list of replies, “we are as evangelistic as they are.” That would be a better statement than the one you just made. I don’t agree with Lemke, and so if you assert the same sort of statement by switching the players, I don’t believe you either.
    Why am I justified in this? Well, partially, you give it away in your reply to me. You state that evangelism across all lines are “difficult to measure”. I would agree with that. So how do you come to the conclusion that Calvinism is “MORE THAN” compared to Non-Calvinism? You knock down the different methods of measurement. But you never mentioned a method that you do rely on. So I get the feeling that you came to your conclusion of MORE THAN out of nowhere.
    You wrote, “I made the case that Calvinist believe that God is involved in the whole process of evangelism, from the proclamation to the response of the sinner to repent and trust Christ. How you assert that I have psychologized the other I know not.”
    Actually, that is the non-offensive half of the case that you made. Here is the statement that you wrote in the article:
    FIRST HALF: “Calvinists actually believe in evangelism and the gospel MORE THAN Arminians
    SECOND NON-OFFENSIVE HALF: because they believe God has not only ordained the ends (salvation) but the means (the preaching of the gospel) as well.” (emphasis mine)
    Notice the “because” in that statement? “Psychologizing-the-other” means that you make presumptions about what is necessessitated behavior based on some sort of reasoning linking theology to their fervor for evangelism. Christ calls us (both Calvinists and Non-Calvinists) to pass on his teachings and share with others who he was. I’m not sure why the lack of a Calvinistic theology creates a difference to which there would be LESS belief in evangelism and the gospel, as you so noted in your “MORE THAN” statement. By the way, Non-Calvinists also believe that “God is involved in the whole process of evangelism, from the proclamation to the response of the sinner to repent and trust Christ.”
    Lastly you state, “Unfortunately, I believe you are inserting the aforementioned quote in an unqualified manner with the purpose (I presume) of projecting it either on me (the author) or the Founders Ministry and their respective churches (the subject). Either way, I believe you are sorely mistaken.”
    Well, I’m not sure how I took that out of context. In any case, you give no explanation as to how I have mistakenly used that quote.
    And NO, you are wrong that I am trying to project it on to anyone. I am in fact showing that someone has countered your own assertion of MORE THAN. I used that quote because Phil Johnson rightly shows that it is not about the theology, but the modern culture of Calvinism that has the unfortunate character “But one could hardly argue that evangelism is a key feature of *modern* Calvinism.” (amongst other statements Phil made in that section). Yet in the opposite method, you invoke theology as some sort of reasoning for a MORE THAN perspective for Calvinism and against NonCalvinism, as I explained earlier. I just don’t see how that works. I COULD be wrong on what Phil meant, but I have no clue since you give me no justification or explanation as to how I am wrong–you just state that I am.

    Finally, I agree, I don’t really have a desire to engage in a tit-for-tat discussion onward here. I just wish you didnt write what you wrote.

  15. Mark Brown Says:

    I have a question. Where does Lemke get his information on membership, baptism numbers etc. Is there an online site for this? Just interested at looking at my church and some of the non calvinist churches I have preached in to view their profile.

  16. mikem Says:


    I’m kind of unsure about your comments re the NOBTS adjuncts in Alabama last year. I was one of them, and I was very open about my Calvinism. I was even offered more teaching time this year, but I had to turn it down since I’ve begun working on my PhD at NOBTS (only so many hours, you know). Are you referring to the guy who preached the anti-Calvinism sermon in chapel (which I refuted at length in some personal e-mails to him)? All I will say is that no one officially connected to the seminary–including Lemke (and by the way, I do not appreciate adolescent name-calling like we see above–let’s at least keep it civil if we can’t keep it Christian)–ever made life difficult for me. I taught with other Calvinists, and I was treated with complete respect.

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