Thinking Out Loud

April 11, 2014

An Outsider Looks at Together for the Gospel

I’ve been aware of the Together for the Gospel conference for a long time, but this week, through the miracle of live streaming and a schedule that coincided, I was able to catch a portion of many of the sessions, including a few sermons from beginning to end.

In many ways it reminded me of an experience a long time ago where I suddenly found myself immersed in a denomination that had always been completely foreign, attending an annual Easter Conference that consisted of speaker after speaker I had never heard of addressing content I was not fully grasping.

I came to this particular event a little better informed as to the subject matter and a great deal more familiar with the speakers, in some cases by reputation in other cases having read their blogs or books for quite some time.

Still, I am very much an outsider, and had I attempted to enter the event physically instead of virtually, I am sure that all manner of alarms would have been tripped. Better to view from a distance, I suppose.

I have a few takeaways from what I was able to catch over the three days that I believe are worth sharing. If you’ve never heard of T4G, this will be an introduction. On the other hand, if this is your tribe, you’ll see at least one person’s perception of the event and surrounding culture.

Together for the Gospel - Constituencies

The Players

T4G is very much a product of what is sometimes called The New Calvinism, or the Young, Restless and Reformed movement. I saw evidence of four streams blending into the T4G pond; consisting of (from smallest to largest):

Presbyterian: I suspect this was the smallest constituency numerically, but Presbys are Reformed in doctrine. So maybe these are the cousins, what Holiness Movement denoms are to hardcore Pentecostals, perhaps. This is also probably considered the liberal wing of the Reformed set, but in balance, if you like your theology capital “L” liberal you probably don’t frequent conferences such as these that skew a little more small “e” evangelical.

Classical Reformed: By this I mean your standard purebred CRC (Christian Reformed Church) or RCA (Reformed Church of America) members, or historically Reformed variants on those two denoms. Dutch ancestry is optional, but it helps.

Southern Baptist: This is where I thought it gets interesting. There is some agreement that to some degree, 5-point Calvinism is becoming the doctrine de rigeur of the SBC, though not all welcome this. (Free Will Baptists are definitely a minority and Free Willy Baptists don’t even show in the stats.) So you see many prominent SBC-ers (more on that in a minute) showing up on panels and as speakers and lots of commercials for LifeWay (a Baptist cash cow) showing up on the giant screen.

New Calvinists: This is the primary target audience for the conference, these are also the people both great and small who dominate the Christian blogosphere and Christian publishing for that matter. (More on that later as well.) They appear to be one of the fastest growing sectors of Christianity right now, but again some of that has to with online perception; the internet was made for this movement, and this movement was made for the internet. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Doctrinally, we’re talking a more hardline 5-point Calvinism than many Classical Reformers. This also takes in sub-sectors such as the Acts 29 Network and the Sovereign Grace churches; and also close friends such as the Harvest Bible Fellowship churches.

The Conference Itself

The three day event in Louisville, KY as evidenced in the main, arena venue consisted of worship times, panel discussions and main speakers. Admittance was by wristband, which apparently one didn’t want to misplace. Grace is a key component of T4G teaching, but apparently it’s not universally applied. In general, I have no complaints with the conference structure…but that doesn’t make for interesting reading, so we’ll move on.

The Music

All of the music that I saw was led by Bob Kauflin, who I got to meet in the very early days of Glad, a “Jesus Music” band dating back to the late ’70s. Bob led from a grand piano facing the stage, so the live streaming consisted entirely of a medium closeup of Bob with a few audience members in the background. No band. No backup vocalists. I wondered if this is normative with the various types of churches represented in the audience.

The music was dominantly hymns with the addition of some Sovereign Grace music and modern-hymns of the Stuart Townend/Keith & Kristyn Getty variety. With almost each piece, Bob would stop playing so that phrases or entire stanzas could be sung a capella. This creates a rather amazing worship atmosphere — especially in a large arena — if not overdone. In my opinion, this was overdone.

At this point, I recognize I run the risk of irate comments, so let me say this is in no way personal. Kauflin is a respected leader in the field of worship music, though we disagree on some issues, such as making minor lyrical changes or the composition of extra verses by local church musicians. His track record in this field is laudable.

But as a musician and worship leader who has been in a similar situation — not once, but twice — I believe it’s time to think about a succession plan; to look toward passing the torch. Working in that direction begins by sharing the stage, by letting younger worship leaders try their wings. I am sure there are, within their movement, some younger musicians deserving of this honor.

The Books

No, I’m not talking about T4G’s finances. One of the things that really stood out to me was the constant reference to the conference bookstore. In addition to some books that delegates received gratis, there were books promoted by the chairperson for each session, and discussion panelists who mentioned a book were often informed seconds later that the particular title was indeed, available at the store.

As someone who loves books, obviously I feel this is commendable. But it’s also a reminder — and please hear this carefully — that this is a particular faith culture that is very much about words. Books, articles, blogs, etc. matter and matter a great deal. (There are very few Salvation Army bloggers, because they’re all out doing what the rest of us only write about.) Your future in the New Calvinist movement depends much on being aware of the latest encyclicals from the movement’s leaders, and participants seem to go deep, past conversational familiarity with the works in question. 

Still, many of the books would be foreign even to mainstream Christian bookstore proprietors, which is why they are often sold through exclusive channels. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so we’ll move on.

The Superstars

I should say first that each denom has its own key people. Whether you attend a district conference, or a national one, there are certain people who, by whatever means, have risen to the top of the organizational hierarchy and are thereby held in high regard.

T4G is no different really. The composition of this year’s lineup — all male, by the way — is somewhat similar to the Venn diagram above, with a similar ratio of speakers and panelists representing different constituencies.  Still, it seems to run to extremes here, with key leaders held in dangerously high esteem, and members of the rank and file working hard to be able to quote chapter and verse from their latest pronouncements. In a Q & A, someone asked via video if Albert Mohler would consider running for President of the United States. Was that tongue in cheek? I might have said ‘yes,’ were it not for the context.

Other main speakers included Kevin DeYoung, Mark Dever, John Piper, David Platt, Matt Chandler, John MacArthur, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Ligon Duncan. (These messages are soon to be posted.)

(As an aside, there was some discussion about a particular high-profile speaker who had recused himself from the conference several months earlier, but was then spotted on the front row, and as to whether you can have it both ways.)

The Gospel

There was definitely some great preaching. I would watch/listen to Kevin DeYoung a second time when that message comes online, and I am always personally challenged by the passion of David Platt.

But I’m always somewhat mystified by the constant references to “the gospel.” It reminds me of the movie The Princess Bride where Vizzini is constantly saying, “Inconceivable;” and finally in a scene Inigo Montoya finally says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The New Calvinists are constantly talking about “the gospel” and dare I say are obsessed with getting it right. But what particular aspect of this is in view? In my world, the gospel is Jesus. If we speak more about the good news, but not so much about the content of that evangel, then I think we’re allowing ourselves to be party to a mammoth distraction. It would be interesting to know what the word-count was for “Jesus” versus “gospel” in remarks made from the platform. 

(One of their number once used the term “real friends of the gospel” to describe New Calvinist churches, implying that others are not.)

In fairness, some of the sessions did address things like the need to share our faith, but you have to remember that this is a community that has historically looked askance at the seeker-sensitive strategy, abhors topical preaching and has been openly critical of anything involving the word missional. I believe that such a verbal witness would be constrained to somewhat limited parameters of their choosing.

Conclusion

I am thankful for the opportunity to get more than a passing glimpse into this particular event. If the option exists, I would definitely try to clear more time to watch in 2016. I think that as the larger, capital “B” Body of Christ, we really don’t know each other. There was some great preaching, and I have better insight into the core values and central issues for the constituencies represented at T4G. There is much we can learn from people of different denominational stripes, and I can only hope my Reformed brothers and sisters would tune in equally for a Wesleyan or Anabaptist or Charismatic convention. 

As an outsider, I am always concerned if the passing of time is bringing us — in this case Calvinists and non-Calvinists — closer together or farther apart. My hope is the former, but reality suggests the latter. As the group represented by T4G grows, I see it becoming more entrenched; there is increasing tribe/brand loyalty, a type of religious jingoism, increasing isolation; and all this is a loss for people on both sides of the divide.


Lighter moments: Check out the Twitter feed Not the T4G

Image: Church-At-Our House Graphics

Related: Defining Calvinism versus Arminianism

 

February 6, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Praise Him In The Hallway

  • Napkin Thelogy: If you can communicate it better with a quick drawing, why not?
  • Just like universities agree to honor some of each others credit courses, four Reformed denominations and the Roman Catholic Church have agreed to honor each others infant baptisms. (For some this confirms that the CRC denomination is not evangelical.)
  • Here’s how some churches look at the issue of copyrights involving music or materials. This example is not a good example, though. 
  • Church planters sometimes are often guilty of reacting to existing trends or conversely, copying existing trends. There are three other factors that can motivate planters, and certain risks and dangers in all five types.
  • When you release a dove ceremonially, it’s not supposed to be attacked by seagulls.
  • Should communion (Eucharist, Lord’s Supper) be done with a common cup or several cups? Actually, that’s not the issue; the real reason I posted this is because it’s a great example of taking Bible study notes.
  • Or this question: Should Churches shift weekend service times to accommodate the Super Bowl game? Perry Noble’s church did.
  • Last week Rachel Held Evans linked to a trio of articles with the common theme, Do Christians idolize virginity? One of the recommended articles is being recommended here as well; the story of a girl who believed that, in her words, I am Damaged Goods.
  • For my local readers who enjoy Robin Mark’s annual visits here each summer, here’s the best version of the John Wesley song I can find. (YouTube audio.) Watched it three times on Saturday.
  • Michael Belote has a very lengthy, heartfelt article on dieting that he then uses as springboard for looking at our spiritual diet. There are some great principles here including this question: Am I using the right fuel in the right amounts? This is a five-star blog post!
  • We’re a bit late arriving at this one, but this February list transcends time. Here are 28 ways to show gratitude that are good anytime. 
  • Wanna start a church in Orange County, California? You’d be in good company, and there are currently 17 churches for sale.
  • A New Jersey pilot credits her faith in God for her and her passenger surviving a crash in the Hudson River.
  • When Michael Hyatt spoke to real estate professionals about social media, he discovered they didn’t know what to post to Twitter or Facebook. Here are his ten suggestions
  • Canadian hockey player Mike Fisher, now with the Nashville Predators, made Brad Lomenick‘s young influencers list for January. Here’s his testimony and a link to his Zondervan-published biography.
  • The Calvinists gotta hate this song; but probably the Arminians are glad they have enough free will to turn off bad church music. Click for The Free Will Song.
  • For something more contemporary… I’ve never been to the blimeycow YouTube channel before, but this take on five-minute instant worship songs, is far too cynical.
  • …Click the images for sourcing from Clark Bunch’s blog (top) and Close to Home (below)…Feel free to add your favorite recent Christian blog links this week in the comments…

Close to Home  02 05 13

November 18, 2011

Reformed Church of America Moves to Sever Ties with Crystal Cathedral

St. Callistus Church ain't the Crystal Cathedral, but, with its overhead stained glass window, it ain't too shabby either.

As noted earlier today at Bene Diction Blogs On, not only has the iconic Crystal Cathedral decided to accept the offer of the Roman Catholic diocese of Orange County, but the church’s parent denomination, The Reformed Church of America, has decided to end a decades-long relationship that had always existed outside of normal denominational protocols and paradigms.

First story first, as reported at the Orange County Register:

Late Thursday evening U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Kwan issued the ruling, acknowledging the tremendous work put in by Chapman University, the diocese’s competitor, which offered as much as $59 million for the 40-acre Crystal Cathedral campus. The diocese will get the property for $57.5 million.

Under the diocese’s plan, the ministry will be able to lease the core buildings – including the cathedral and the Tower of Hope – for three years, at $100,000 a month during the first year and $150,000 for years two and three. They also will be able to lease the school building for $10,000 a month until the end of school year 2013.

After three years, Crystal Cathedral Ministries and the school will move to the 10-acre property on Lewis Street where St. Callistus is now located.

Several longtime congregants who supported Chapman’s bid in an effort to remain in their home church left in tears after the judge announced the decision.

…continue reading here…

This has to beg the question: Will there be enough congregants left to continue in the large glass church for three years?   The same news story noted:

Congregants, who left the courthouse tearful and disappointed, said they felt betrayed.

“The cathedral’s administration and the board have really stripped us of our ministry,” said Bob Canfield. “In the end, it was all about the money. The congregants have lost their ministry.”

Chuck Stalter called the decision “the death of the church.”

“There will be a mass exodus tomorrow,” he said.

Other issues raised in the discussions included a perceived superiority of Catholic churches in general to maintain burial grounds.  Many former members of the Crystal Cathedral are buried on the property while others have expressed that intent in their wills.

The denominational issue, while it won’t be the focus of many mainstream news reports today, is in some ways significant, though most will view it as a rather anticlimactic move that has been a long time coming.

[R]epresentatives of the Reformed Church in America say they are in the process of discontinuing their relationship with the Crystal Cathedral.

Scott Treadway, president of the Reformed Church in California, says the cathedral’s goals and mission, including worship style, are not in line with those of the denomination – leaving them with no choice but to discontinue their long and unique relationship with the Crystal Cathedral.

“We have resolved that the governance requirements of the (Crystal Cathedral) and RCA are mutually exclusive, and discussions are underway toward a gracious parting of ways,” he said in an email response.

The Reformed Church’s relationship with the Crystal Cathedral was unique because the cathedral had grown into much more than a local community church when it became a worldwide television ministry, Treadway said.

So an agreement was forged, he said, where the Reformed Church continued to ordain the ministers, but that the ministry and property were administered solely by Crystal Cathedral Ministries. Although the agreement worked well for many years, the relationship became stressed when “there was a dissonance in ministry direction, music style, bankruptcy and risk to the property,” Treadway said, referring to the ministry’s shift from traditional music to a praise style of worship.

“It became an unsolvable mess,” he said.

…complete story here…

Back to the building and property sale, the church’s lead pastor continues to hold on to optimism in the face of what is probably insurmountable obstacles:

Sheila Schuller Coleman, the founder’s daughter, sought to reassure members and supporters of the iconic house of worship Thursday night, saying “there is still time for God to step in and save Crystal Cathedral Ministries.”

“Lest you think it is too late for a miracle, I want to reassure you that it is not too late for a miracle,” said Schuller Coleman, the church’s director of ministry and mission.

…continue story at CNN Religion…

Sadly, this last pronouncement shows that the story is not over, and really won’t be over, until the church comes to terms with the idea that its time has passed.  We do not, in the Evangelical world, have a protocol for shutting down churches smoothly.  People get emotionally bonded to land and buildings, when in fact, our love and devotion should be directed toward Jesus Christ.

Many other stories in this saga are available on this blog:  Use the search bar in the upper right corner and type “Crystal Cathedral” and hit enter.  Results will appear in reverse chronological order from newest to oldest.

October 19, 2010

Crystal Cathedral Bows To Inevitable Financial Pressure

An hour after ABC News was reporting the Crystal Cathedral’s Chapter 11 filing, neither the religion page at USAToday or the CNN Belief blog had anything posted.   In many ways, the best the story merits is either a yawn or an “I told you so.”   Everyone saw it coming.

Everyone, perhaps except Robert H. Schuller, the founder of Garden Grove Community Church, later renamed after its architectural offspring, The Crystal Cathedral.    Many will speculate that if Schuller, Sr. had focused more on his other offspring, son Robert A. Schuller, perhaps the organization would not have met with such rapid decline.

The Orange County Business Journal quotes the present lead pastor:

“Budgets could not be cut fast enough to keep up with the unprecedented rapid decline in revenue due to the recession,” Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman said in a statement.

The filing lists debts of “50 to 100 million;” under 1,000 creditors owed; and assets of $100 million.  (All figures U.S. dollars.)

But another Orange County publication, the OC Journal, has columnist Gustavo Arellano inferring that Schuller, Sr. “had it coming.”

…The world will see that Schuller ultimately influenced American Christianity the most of any pastor in OC–at the expense of his own flock and for personal benefit.

While Chuck Smith revitalized American evangelicism via Calvary Chapel, the Crouches revolutionized broadcasting the words of Christ (including Schuller’s own Hour of Power) and Rick Warren built a global megachurch without peer, Schuller put too much of his church’s focus on himself–the best-selling books, the television program, the many lectures. His message of possibility thinking and seminars for pastors made Warren possible, created the megachurch movement, and brought in millions to build his Crystal Cathedral–but while Schuller mugged for the cameras, he never did set a course of succession for his flock. If I was more up-to-date on my Scripture, this is the part where I’d quote Jesus or some prophet about vanity–oh, Ecclesiastes!–and say Schuller didn’t learn.

So what does Chapter 11 mean when applied to a church?   It’s not much different than when it is applied to a manufacturing plant or a department store.   There is a temporary relief of pressure, life goes on, and the church tries to come up with a plan.

At this point, I know some will suggest there really is only one plan:  Bring back son Robert A. Schuller.   Whether he would want to return under the present conditions is a huge variable.

But otherwise, the options aren’t that many.   Perhaps Anaheim, California will find itself with a new symphony hall or arts center somewhere down the road — after all, don’t a lot of the rundown or abandoned churches in North America eventually end up as some kind of civic facility?

Appendix:   Adding up the debt

Here’s a few of the major — and some longstanding — creditors as reported at the Orange County Register:

Infocision Management Corp.: $359,788
Lloyd Daniel Corp.: $318,500
FGS-CA Inc.: $252,992
KWGN: $206,954
World Marketing Inc.: $200,386
Thomas Nelson Publisher: $200,219
Dayster Television: $172,997
Wheelchair Foundation: $163,551
Hearst Television Inc.: $105,400
Lin Television Corporation: $90,567
Kristina Oliver, livestock supplier: $56,000
Gray Television Inc.: $55,522
Sharon Crabtree, managed props for pageants: $20,000
Carin Galletta, public relations: $16,000
Bruce Johnson, drycleaner: $11,500
Juliet Noriega, wardrobe supervisor: $10,000

October 27, 2008

More on the Crystal Cathedral / Robert Schuller Story

Scroll down two posts for the original story if you missed it.

From obadiah1317.wordpress.com -

Make no mistake about it! The difference between Robert H Schuller and his son, Robert A Schuller, was that the younger Schuller was preaching out of the Bible for his messages. Biblical revival was beginning to sweep over the Crystal Cathedral. No more! Young Schuller will not be preaching on the Hour of Power yet will still retain his status as Senior Pastor. That doesn’t make any sense! A Senior Pastor that can’t preach?

It would also seem the Robert H Schuller is now intent to have guest ministers fill the pulpit at the Crystal Cathedral even though he will also be doing some preaching there and the reason is simple- No more Bible based messages but instead more psychological laced possibility thinking for that is the reason of conflict between he and his son. “PREACH THE WORD” 2 Timothy 4:2.

“For the time will come when they will NOT endure sound doctrine” 2 Timothy 4:3. This is Robert H Schuller to a T. If Schuller doesn’t like Bible based sound doctrine he will move back into the pulpit his possibility thinking garbage. “BUT ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN DESIRES”. You see Schuller’s ears have been itching ever since his son Robert began preaching out of the Bible. While he doesn’t feel that the Schuller name should be featured at the Cathedral his name will be there unlike his son’s.   [...continue article here]

From andy1313.wordpress.com

I went to the Reformed Church of America website to learn what their doctrinal beliefs are and here is what I found: “Above all, our faith is centered in Christ. Every need of ours finds its answer in Jesus Christ. The final authority in the Reformed faith is Holy Scripture, the living Word of God, spoken to everyone through the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and makes it real and actual in our lives. This has always been and will always be the authentic wellspring of Reformed faith”.

Yet it is that very word of God, as contained in the Bible, which cost Robert A Schuller his tenure on the Hour of Power as the elder Schuller thought he was using too much Bible on the program. “Faith comes by hearing and HEARING BY THE WORD OF GOD” Romans 10:17. In view of the Reformed Church of America’s statement as reinforced by the word of God, I would be curious as to how they view what has been done at the Crystal Cathedral?  [...continue article here]

another post at http://www.obadiah1317.wordpress.com

Last April, under the then leadership of Robert A Schuller, 500 people surged forward at an impromptu altar call and gave their life to the Lord. Christianity Today has the full account here- .

I would ask, in lieu of that article, has Robert H Schuller grieved the Holy Spirit by the removal of his son as pastor? It would seem that a revival of sorts had been brought to the Crystal Cathedral but is what revival what Dr. Robert H Schuller really desires at that church? “Do NOT quench the Spirit”- 1 Thessalonians 4:19. Can you imagine being disciplined for preaching the word of God? Prayer must be forthcoming for Robert A Schuller. And for Dr. Robert H Schuller perhaps he should consider Ephesians 4:30 most carefully in lieu of his actions. “DO NOT GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD”. [post shown complete]

>>>OCTOBER 31 UPDATE:  Check out this one, too; by Albert Mohler, “So Much for Possibility Thinking.”

October 26, 2008

Robert A. Schuller Removed From Hour of Power Telecasts

Crystal Cathedral founder Reverend Robert H. Schuller has removed his son as preacher on the church’s weekly “Hour of Power” syndicated TV broadcast.

Schuller said in a statement read to some 450 congregants Saturday by church president Jim Coleman that he and his son, Robert A. Schuller, “have different ideas as to the direction and the vision for this ministry.”

“For this lack of shared vision and the jeopardy in which this is placing this entire ministry, it has become necessary for Robert and me to part ways,” Schuller said.

Robert A. Schuller will remain as senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral, though it was unknown whether he will continue to preach, a church spokesman told the Los Angeles Times…

So begins a story on the religion page of USAToday.   Link to that story here, the Orange County Register story here, and a short summary from United Press International (UPI) here.

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.