My response to Lemke’s “Middle Way”

In response to my and others’ challenges to explain in what sense he and other authors of Whosoever Will are not Arminians Steve Lemke posted a message about “The Middle Way” (allegedly between Arminianism and Calvinism) at:

http://sbctoday.com/2011/06/07/the-middle-way/

You’ll have to read that to understand my response.

Basically, Lemke’s argument seems to me (unless I am missing something) to amount to me saying “I am not a Protestant because some Protestants believe in infant baptism.”  Who would take that seriously?

None of the things Lemke lists are essential to Arminianism.  Also, apparently he does not understand the governmental theory of the atonement which IS a substitutionary theory of the atonement.  It may not be penal substitution, but the BF&M doesn’t state “penal substitution.”  Anyway, not all Arminians reject penal substitution.  John Wesley didn’t!

IMHO, Lemke still has not explained one point of real disagreement with classical Arminian theology.  He has stated some disagreements with SOME Arminians.  But Arminianism is not “what all Arminians believe about everything.”  It is a certain view of soteriology.  I find the views reflected in Whosoever Will thoroughly consistent with classical Arminianism.  I hesitate to say this lest I sound boastful, but I ought to know.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • J.J.

    I’m curious… do you agree with Lemke’s statement: “most Arminians deny eternal security of the believer”?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know anyone who has counted. I think most Southern Baptists are Arminians and most Southern Baptists believe in eternal security, so….

      • J.J.

        Maybe I should re-phrase the question this way: Of those that claim to be Arminians, do you think most of them would deny the eternal security of the believer?

        (I’m not sure if most Southern Baptists would claim to be Arminians or not… even though I think despite the Calvinist resurgence, most Southern Baptists have Arminian tendencies. And I do understand no one has done a scientific poll of this, but what do you suspect is the case regarding most who claim to be Arminians.)

        I agree with your comment below that the perception (or misperception) of “losing your salvation” is the main reason many with Arminian leanings would not claim to be Arminians.

        Maybe I should also ask, what do you think are the main reasons that those with Arminian tendencies do not claim Arminianism? I suspect (besides the eternal security issue), it also has to do with the perception (or misperception) that Arminians emphasize man’s role in salvation too much and the perception (or misperception) that they don’t emphasize God’s sovereignty enough.

        • rogereolson

          You almost have to be in the Southern Baptist milieu to understand the way labels are used or misused. Let me illustrate. During the whole SBC wars (beginning in about 1978) a motley group began calling themselves “moderates.” They were considered “liberals” by the neo-fundamentalists taking over the convention. Gradually the label moderate became too problematic for many who initially called themselves that. Former SBC moderates in Virginia and the Carolinas, for example, seemed more prone to liberal tendencies than moderates in Texas, for example. In Texas “moderate Baptist” meant (and to some still means) strong belief in the autonomy of the local congregation. In Virginia and especially North Carolina (and to some extent Georgia especially in the Atlanta area) it meant (and still means to some) a tendency to hold lightly to traditional, orthodox Christian doctrines and tolerance of wide variances of belief. There emerged two different moderate ethoses among former SBCers. So, gradually, people especially in Texas began to shy away from the label “moderate” as the east coast connotation began to catch on. I know some former SBCers in Texas who used to enthusiastically call themselves moderates who now shun the word entirely. What do they now prefer? “Texas Baptist,” of course, silly! :) But how does that distinguish them from neo-fundamentalists among Texas Baptists? It doesn’t. Now there’s just a struggle over which group is going to control that label! On and on and on it goes. So, I think Southern Baptist Arminians believe the cause is lost; it is simply too late to try to rescue the label “Arminian” within their political context. They believe to try to label themselves that way would play into the hands of their opponents. Soon, no matter what they said, constituents would be convinced (by their opponents) that they deny the security of the believer even though leaders on both sides KNOW you can be Arminian and believe in the security of the believer. (Arminius himself almost certainly did.) The struggle is for the hearts and minds and checkbooks of the untutored laity and some will stop at nothing to win that struggle. As I’ve said here before, I know that first hand. On at least two occasions leading Southern Baptist neo-fundamentalists attributed to me quotes I never said. They simply made them up out of thin air. These were published. Why? Not to harm me. They don’t care about me personally. They only began to notice me when I moved into their milieu and taught at an institution they wanted to harm. Some of them tried to portray me as an open theist–only to harm my institution. If I taught elsewhere, outside this ecclesiastical political context, they wouldn’t even take notice of me.

          • J.J.

            That’s painfully true and tragically sad to read. I appreciate your thorough response… and that you put so much time, thought, and energy into your blog and responses.

  • tony springer

    Southern Baptists preach like a Calvinist, evangelize like an Arminian, and walk like a Pelagian, yet do not understand their personality disorder.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    Right on. For all Lemke’s (seemingly) condescending derision for those who don’t understand basic logical fallacies, he may need to revisit one himself: red herrings.

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    Another observation. I haven’t read their book, but based on Lemke’s description of their view being a “middle way” (using the analogy of New Orleans’ “neutral ground”), one would expect their positions to fall somewhere in the “middle way” between the polarized views that divide Arminians and Calvinists. So, using his examples, let’s see what we find. As his examples of Arminian views he disagrees with, Lemke cites:

    (1) A non-orthodox view of the Trinity. [So, what is their “middle ground” view between the supposed non-orthodox view of Arminians and the presumably orthodox view of Calvinists? Seems like one of those nasty “either/or” dilemmas: orthodox or non-orthodox.]
    (2) Open theism. [Wouldn’t the “middle ground” between open theism and Calvinistic determinism be classical Arminianism (or perhaps Molinism)?]
    (3) Non-substitutionary atonement. [Looks like another of those nasty either/or dilemmas: substitutionary or not.]
    (4) Original sin as guilt. [Difficult to find a “middle way” on this one since, as far as I’m aware, classical Arminianism and Calvinism agree on this view over against Southern Baptists.]
    (5) Eternal security. [Yet another either/or.]
    (6) Episcopalian church polity. [Didn’t the Arminians basically inherit this from their Calvinist predecessors? Where’s the middle ground here?]
    (7) Ordinances. [See comment on 6 above.]
    (8) Episcopalian church government. [See comment on 6 above.]
    (9) Presbyterian church polity. [See comment on 6 above.]
    (10) Women pastors. [This is a rift that cuts straight through both Arminian and Calvinist denominations, rather than something that distinguishes them. And again, what is the middle ground on this issue?]
    (11) Infant baptism and non-immersion. [See comment on 6 above.]
    (12) State church. [See comment on 6 above.]

    It appears, then, that of each of these 12 supposedly Arminian views that these Southern Baptist authors disagree with, it would be inappropriate to call any of the SB views a “middle way” between Arminianism and Calvinism. Now, if instead they wanted to say that the whole Arminian/Calvinist debate is a bit anachronistic and unhelpful, then that’s one thing. (As an evangelical Anabaptist, I might even offer a soft “amen.”) But to talk about “false alternatives” and to posture oneself as a “middle way” while avoiding the actual issues that divide Arminians and Calvinists seems like just what it is: posturing. But perhaps as a non-Southern Baptist, I’m just another one of those amusing folks who don’t “get it.”

    • rogereolson

      I don’t want to make too much of this, but I’m convinced the authors of Whosoever Will just don’t want to identify as Arminian because the majority of Southern Baptists wrongly think of Arminianism as denial of eternal security. Rather than label themselves what they are and teach what it means, they’d rather avoid the label altogether. The problem is, they haven’t hit on an alternative label. There really isn’t one.

  • John Metz

    I find this discussion fascinating. I have Whosoever Will but have only looked at it so far.

    For many years I associated Arminianism with the loosing of salvation and Calvinism with the assurance of salvation. Of course, there is much, much more to the discussion, but this is probably a common view among many Christians. More recently, the realization has dawned on me that the lines have blurred quite a bit or perhaps were never quite a distinct as each camp’s proponents would have us believe. A friend of mine wrote an article about the P of TULIP, perseverance of the saints, and said that the the Reformed position on this is a kind of backdoor Arminianism.

  • http://www.benstevens.de Ben Stevens

    Dr. Olson,

    Loved your book on Arminian Theology. Have you seen this:

    http://www.calvinistsandarminians.com

    It’s an attempt to make ecumenical statements on providence in soteriology, one kataphatic and one apophatic. People from pretty deep in both camps have been signing off on it. I really like it, but I’m biased…At any rate, thanks so much for your work!

  • Brian

    I have a question. What is the real difference between Reformed Arminianism and Arminianism? Where do most Evangelical Arminians belong? Which camp do you belong in and why?

    • rogereolson

      I will call myself “Reformed Arminian” only to distinguish my view of sanctification from the Wesleyan one. So far as I know that is it’s only use.