A MOG Commentary: Steve Lemke on CalvinismWednesday, September 13, 2006
The cover article for this month's Christianity Today is entitled, "Young, Restless, and Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback and shaking up the church" (pp. 32-38). Among the interviews done to deliver a balanced approach to the subject, Steve Lemke, Provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, was among those interviewed. Lemke has been an outspoken critic of calvinism's influence in the Southern Baptist Convention, most recently in an article presented in April 2005 entitled "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals." In his interview for CT he provocatively reflects on his personal issues on this subject.
"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" (p. 37).
This is probably the most often-repeated, illogically perceived and presumed conclusion by Arminians. For them, if God elects, then evangelism dies. The argument is almost as old as dirt, but thankfully the biblical response is older. It is found in Romans 9-11 where the Apostle Paul argues from the sovereign election of individuals unto salvation in chapter 9...to the inseparable connection between election and evangelism in chapter 10...to the anguish of his soul for his lost Jewish brothers and sisters in chapter 11.
The bottom line is that the gospel is a two-sided coin. The gospel must be preached for anyone to believe it, and the gospel will only be believed by those whom God elects. Conversely, the gospel will only be received by those whom God elects, yet it must be preached to all in order for the elect to come to faith in Christ. While it is a mystery and something hard to understand, that does not necessitate that it should be hard to accept.
Thankfully the author of the article saw fit to respond to the criticism with Piper's words which ring true across the board for reformed people.
"I think the criticism of Reformed theology is being silenced by the mission and justice and evangelism and worship and counseling - the whole range of pastoral life...We're not the kind who are off in a Grand Rapids ghetto crossing our t's and dotting our i's and telling the world to get their act together. We're in the New Orleans slums with groups like Desire Street Ministries, raising up black elders through Reformed theology from 9-year old boys who had no chance."
In the end, I truly believe that it will continue to be this kind of gospel-saturated thinking and gospel-risk-taking living that will silence Arminians far more than our well-reasoned responses. How we live it will prove to Arminians that we are dead-earnest about our evangelism. And if they still think that we are merely and perhaps freakishly inconsistent in our theology, let them think what they will...as long as they will partner with us in the process.