Thinking Out Loud

November 1, 2014

End of the Line for Mars Hill

The headline at Christianity Today said it all:

Mars Hill LocationsHere’s reaction from people you know, along with random comments from people you don’t on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that were posted in the hours immediately following the announcement:

Zach Hoag: In my opinion, this was the only right decision for a church organization with such a troubled history. It will allow for a truly new start, free from the arrogant defense of the old institution, and for the deep healing process to commence. 

Stephan Deliramich: This is crazy and sad. I appreciate Driscoll and have mixed feelings about his resignation, however this is such a lesson to all of us. A church cannot be built around one person unless that person is Jesus.

Warren Throckmorton: If anything has become clear over the last year, it is that the church was all about buildings and organization.

Rachel Held Evans: My heart breaks for those brothers and sisters from Seattle feeling wounded, exhausted, and disillusioned by the unraveling of their church. Even unhealthy churches have faithful, godly people working in them. I hope everyone will take the time they need to heal after this, and that the relationships that were truly life-giving will be preserved. Unfortunately, churches built around a pastor tend to rise and fall with that pastor. I hope the entire evangelical community will learn from this and re-prioritize accountability, character, respect for women and the marginalized, and I sincerely hope Mark Driscoll finds the help he needs…

Christopher Preston: Sad… But not so surprising… The pitfalls of building a church on personality rather than Christ?

Jim West: This is the major theological problem with megachurches: they have no idea what missionary minded churches are.  They do not distribute, they collect.  Rather than planting churches in various locations, they collect people like property and then boast of their multiple campuses and tens of thousands of members.  If megachurches understood Christianity they would plant churches and not establish satellites.  But whenever wealth comes the way of the greedy and controlling, it is only natural that they try to get as much of it as they can.  That is why Mars Hill has died: greed killed it. 

John Paul Ortiz: I’m actually sad to hear of Mars Hill’s demise. For all the people who now have to go church hopping, people now unemployed, hurt. etc.

Jacey Davidson: The mega-church/multi-site model is unsustainable as is it built upon certain gifted individuals that can’t help but assume inappropriate amounts of power and influence. God’s church is all about decentralization. The priesthood of all believers is a critical reformation doctrine. Multi-site is a relatively new invention of man and doesn’t seem to fit the biblical model of church government. It is pseudo-Presbyterian but lacks the proper accountability channels. 

Multisite Church SaleMatthew Wagner: Pray for Mars Hill and the 14000 Christians that called it home. Sad to see the church closing its doors. 

Spiritual Sounding Board: I’ve seen discussion [about] new “Mars Hill” churches. If these pastors failed to stand up to Driscoll and say he was unfit, they are unfit to lead. 

Drew Fanning: [referencing CT headline above] Describing a church as a human’s possession and using words like “empire” will have a terrible impact on Mars Hill’s congregation. We as christian contributors to social media, news, and even culture have to be so careful how we use any terminology. And more so than worry about the buildings Mars Hill owned, we should be worrying about the people that filled them.

Wenatchee The Hatchet:  In ten years Mark Driscoll managed to become pretty much everything he preached against from the pulpit circa 2000-2004.  How and why this happened may be explored and unpacked later on.  Whether the individual churches that have been constituents of Mars Hill can survive remains to be seen.  A number of them may and we’ll just have to see.  

Brian Shepard: Sucks hearing that Mars Hill Church is officially done.. but will be praying that from this ending, this moment also marks a new beginning. 

Bill Kinnon: If you need to shut it down mere weeks after the “founder” quits, was it ever really a church at all?

John Piper: Mars Hill Church will cease to be a single multisite church. May each congregation flourish in Christ!  

Click the image at the top of the article to read the details at Christianity Today.

 

May 23, 2014

Defending Lectio Divina: Letting the Text Speak

Challies Lectio Divina

Tim Challies was at it again this week, this time bashing a centuries-old Bible study and meditation practice called Lectio Divina which enjoyed a bit of a resurgence a decade ago as post moderns and millennial searched for practices that could comprise an “ancient-future” approach to Christian life.

His attack on a Spirit-led consideration of the text really undermines the Pentecostal approach to sermon preparation and study and is reminiscent of John MacArthur’s recent attacks on that movement. He finds the methodology subjective, but realistically, every commentary you’ve ever read is going to be somewhat subjective, both in terms of what it says and also in terms of what it includes or leaves out.

But you don’t have to be Pentecostal to use this method; everyone who prayerfully tries to let the text speak to them is going to be embracing this at some level; furthermore, if you discard this you are one baby step away from discarding the inductive Bible study method taught by Kay Arthur (and others) and the idea of praying the scriptures which many find useful.

Fortunately, Mark Moore has written an excellent rebuttal. I want to encourage you to read all of it, but since some don’t click through, here are some highlights:

  • I approached studying for a sermon series like I was studying for a dissertation defense at Oxford. I would read dozens of commentaries, monographs, journal articles, and just about anything else I could get my hands on…Yep, for the most part it was overkill. I dissected a book until I felt that I knew it inside and out
  • …When I approach the text in order to be formed by it, rather than simply informed by it, I am submitting myself to the text–the opposite of mastering it…
  • As I continue reading, I’m paying attention to where I feel apprehended by the text. I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit knows me well and wants to speak to me and wants to form me into the image of Jesus.
  • Lectio divina is dangerous. There is a dangerous risk to your comfort when you begin submitting to Scripture rather than trying to master it.

This study method has four components and you’ll need to click through to see them explained, but here they are:

  • Lectio (Reading)
  • Meditatio (Meditation)
  • Oratio (Prayer)
  • Contemplatio (Contemplation)

If the use of Latin seems too Catholic for you, or the whole thing appears to be too far removed from your experience or how your church teaches devotional Bible study, may I remind you that if you had never heard the ACTS outline for prayer (Acknowledge, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) it would probably seem strange too.

At the end of the day, Challies’ is simply hyper-critical of anything that is outside of his spiritual life experience. “That’s not how we do it;” morphs into “That’s not how it should be done.” He is literally terrified of that which does not fit into his boxes. Unfortunately, he has a huge readership, many of whom would never question the various manifestations of the Christian world he condemns, especially considering the fear mentality that plagues much of the Church.

But so much of scripture — so much of God for that matter — is mystery. The Jews regarded the scripture as a multifaceted jewel; each reflection and refraction and each turning of the object revealed something never before seen.

That experience of the word is, I am afraid, is alwaysgoing to be somewhat subjective.

 

 

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

 

October 17, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to WLL # 125, the first link-list I’ve composed entirely in HTML. Let me know if renders a little weird on your screen. (Weirder than most weeks, that is!)


September 5, 2012

Wednesday Link List

This week’s links include:

July 21, 2012

The Comment I Didn’t Leave

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

So there I was yesterday surfing the blogosphere, when I came across the writings of John Plougman, a blogger who makes no attempt to hide his Calvinist leanings.  He makes this shot across the bow in a post titled: John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo

Anthony Lane’s chapter “Calvin’s Way of Doing Theology” in Calvin: Theologian and Reformer, edited by Joel Beeke and Garry Williams, begins with this paragraph:

John Calvin is best known for his Institutes of the Christian Religion. This work went through five major editions, and Calvin continually revised it for most of his literary and pastoral life. Like Augustine, he was one of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.

That may be true, that Calvin wrote as he learned, but there is an obvious difference between Augustine and Calvin in this.  For Calvin, the fundamental substance of his theology never changed. A look at all five editions of the Institutes will reveal a development (and sometimes substantial), but never a fundamental change.  Unlike Augustine, he never had to write a book of retractions.

It was all I could do not to post this comment:

This is so sad. But there are stories abounding how Charles Darwin recanted his theories on his deathbed, and one can only speculate that perhaps Calvin did the same.

My wife counseled me to leave well enough alone. So I did. Sort of.

Doctrinally confused?  Maybe this will help.

June 5, 2012

“I Don’t Like It, But I Need a Theological Reason”

The comments section was fairly quiet yesterday, but off the blog it was a different story…

…anyway, I decided as promised to reprint the further foray into yesterday’s topic that actually appeared in the comments section…

It began with this comment, which I did not approve:

I’ve read more informative commentary on the place mats at Burger King.

I wasn’t trying to restate the story of Tim Challies blog review of Ann Voskamp’s book because I thought the article at her.meneutics spelled out everything so clearly. Did you click through? Out of hundreds of page views early yesterday, only a handful of people actually clicked through to read the story.

I wasn’t originally trying to provide a lot of commentary , I just wanted to share the story; I think Ann’s response was very Christ-like and very consistent with what I saw of her on the interviews at 100 Huntley Street. (Linked in my ‘overview’ of the book which is linked here.)

But since you asked so nicely…

Mark 9:38-41 — Common English Bible (CEB)

Recognize your allies

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.

I think the type of person who is going to have great issues with this book is probably the same type of person who has issues with The Shack. I can be more objective here because while I was — once the smoke cleared and I’d settled my own position —  very supportive of Paul Young’s book; I saw Ann’s as more of a women’s book and I’m sure the sales figures bear that out to the point where I think only a woman can provide a really thorough review of it.

But we tend to shy away from anything that’s not produced from within “our group.” (See Mark 9, above.) My own research has shown that in any particular community, no matter how much media and marketing is given to a particular book title; it will sell so much a better if a local pastor endorses the book from the pulpit; more so if it quotes a particular translation or appears under the imprint of a particular publisher.

The church has long resisted change and innovation, and Ann Voskamp’s book, her blog, her style of public speaking is very unique; very much who she is.

I find that frequently the church is awakened by the sound of a different voice; I also find that even those whose message may have some rough meters and uneven cadences causes us to think more than those with a skillfully crafted prose that is the same as every other speaker and writer. (Though I am not at all saying that Ann Voskamp’s writing is not beautifully structured; but it is unlike everything else currently on offer.)

Tim Challies writes,

She either quotes or is influenced by authors like Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Teresa of Avila, Brother Lawrence, Annie Dillard, and Dallas Willard. This brings to the book a deep-rooted mysticism that at times seems even to border on the view that the divine exists within and extends to all parts of nature (a teaching known as panentheism). At heart, mysticism promotes the view that God can be experienced, and perhaps even best experienced, outside of Scripture.

Tim Challies cited as problematic Ann’s having been influenced by ‘mystics’ like Henri Nouwen and Dallas Willard. Again, I’m not a fan of Willard; we did one of his curriculum DVD series on Sunday nights and it just didn’t connect with me. But I have to allow some respect for the pastor who thought this would be good for our people, and the publishing company that vetted his material. I am simply not automatically predisposed to dismiss certain writers out of hand if other people I know draw great value from their perspective.

And is the revelation we have of God absolutely limited to the revelation in scripture? Do we know things (that are truth) about God extra-Biblically? That’s been debated for centuries. I would argue that all things taught must line up with scripture, but beyond that I am cautiously open.

So I have no built-in bias toward Ann, the book, or the writers who have influenced her; and that said, I still defend her right to have a place at the conversation table for Christian women; and I also place a certain degree of confidence in her publisher, Zondervan, who are ironically the publisher of one of Tim Challies’ books.

…A couple of weeks ago, Jack, a guy in our community passed away. Jack attended a “King James Only” church his whole life, but he seemed a little too “open” and too intelligent to buy into the so-called doctrinal reasons for clinging to that translation. So I asked him. He just smiled and looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s just preferences. That’s all it is; preferences.”

And that’s really all it is in this case.

Referring to a chapter where Ann compares intimacy with God to sexual ecstasy, Challies says,

Sometimes it is best to allow God to define the parameters of our metaphors rather than taking them to a much greater extent. Voskamp would have done well to limit herself here.

If this is true, what do we do with the “not safe but good” Aslan in Narnia? That was a stretch, to say the least.

He goes on,

Why should she have to travel to a Roman Catholic cathedral in a foreign land in order to truly experience the Lord?

If travel is an issue, what are to do with summer camp ministries, where we remove children from familiar influences in order for them to see themselves and see God in a different environment? What are we to do with the testimonies of those who have truly “found” God in the middle of a brothel, or a casino, or even in the midst of a truly false cult? The Psalmist said, “If I make my bed in hell, you are there.” Is the problem that it was a Catholic cathedral? In fact, are not our greatest experiences of worship and understanding often while we’re away from our routines and comfortable surroundings?

He concluded,

I fear that some will see that Voskamp subtly promotes a higher order of holiness, a higher order of relationship with God, and be dissatisfied that they do not have this for themselves.

Is that not true on some level of each and every Christian book we read? Every church service we attend? Every sermon podcast we listen to? Yes, there is always that “Monday morning letdown;” that return to reality that happens after the spiritual high from Sunday’s service. But 167 hours later, we go back; we go on retreat weekends; we buy another Christian book, because we want to be inspired.

One Thousand Gifts is probably not my kind of book. But as my friend Jack would say, “That’s just preferences;” and if you’re going to let your personal preferences get in the way, then don’t consider yourself in any way an objective book reviewer of Henri Nouwen or Brennan Manning or The Shack. or One Thousand Gifts.

The principle of noblesse oblige also applies to people who have been given a huge platform, either in their books, their pastorate or their blog. You must conduct yourself and know that your words will be judged by a higher standard. The very first response, the default response to those outside “our group” must be a gracious one; especially when we propose to judge the entire tenor of someone else’s ministry.

Placing too much in one particular blogger’s approval or disapproval of something, “in its own subtle way I believe that it can and will prove dangerous, at least to some.”

Or as the scriptures say, “Not many of you should presume to write book reviews.” It’s there. Just check your concordance.

June 4, 2012

The Christian Blogosphere: East is East and West is West…

Ann Voskamp, Tim Challies: Sometimes we just have to agree to disagree

For those out of the loop, you might want to begin need to start with the excellent summary (and links) from Micha Boyette at Her.meneutics. For those who are familiar with this story, I get into much greater detail in the comments section.

While on the one hand I rather hate to draw attention to last week’s tension between Canadian blogger and Zondervan author Tim Challies and Canadian blogger and Zondervan author Ann Voskamp, it really highlights the spectrum of opinion that we find in the world of Christian blogging.

Though they live a very short distance apart, they are probably light years apart theologically.  For some inexplicable reason, Tim took to reviewing the book a year and a half after publication.  Presumably some among his tribe were concerned and John Piper was not available to deliver a ruling on it.  (Having typed that tongue-in-cheek statement, it is an interesting situation considering Ann is a fan of Piper.)

Tim could not condone the book, to the point of calling it “dangerous.” For some of the more cynical, this might constitute the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. But when über-blogger Challies can’t endorse you’re writing, the weaker among us would be tempted to pack up the team and head home before the first inning.

Not Ann Voskamp.  She took the high road.  She invited him to come for dinner.

Seriously.

You remember that verse, “When your enemy curses and reviles you, invite them to your farm for a delicious feast.”  Yes.  That verse is there.  Just check your concordance.

I mentioned Ann’s book here shortly after it started to take off.  Although I hadn’t read it, I provided an overview focusing on the poetic language she uses, a rarity in Christian publishing.  The book, to some, has been a breath of fresh air, a cup of refreshing water.

But dinner at Ann’s farm would be an awesome experience. I would gladly have trashed the book in this space if I knew it would earn such a prestigious invitation.

So, if you’re reading this, Ann, I just live an hour on the other side of Toronto.

Here’s the link again to the story at CT’s women’s blog, her.meneutics.  Be sure to click all the links, so you can see all of Ann’s pictures.

Read Ann’s blog: A Holy Experience, and Tim’s Challies.com

Learn more about 1,000 Gifts at Zondevan.com (also available in November as a DVD study)

June 2, 2012

Southern Baptists Affirm Non-Calvinist Distinctives

Apparently, this blogger isn’t the only one concerned with the way New Calvinist media — especially books and blogs — are dominating mainstream Evangelicalism.  On Thursday,

“A group of current and former Southern Baptist leaders has signed a statement affirming what they call the “traditional Southern Baptist” understanding of the doctrine of salvation, with the goal of drawing a distinction with the beliefs of “New Calvinism.”

“The statement was posted May 31 at SBCToday.com and includes a preamble and 10 articles…”

The suggestion is that New Calvinism — or what I’ve referred to on this blog as militant Calvinism —  is aggressively infiltrating Baptist thought in order to become the default doctrine.  On a personal level, I’ve seen it happen here in Canada where Baptist bloggers have so strongly identified with the writings of YRR (Young, Restless and Reformed) authors that it defies understanding why they haven’t left their Baptist denomination in favor of the Christian Reformed Church.

The document further asserts that the “vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life.”

“We believe it is time to move beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology,” the statement reads. Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation.

Each of the 10 articles includes a statement of what the signers affirm and what they deny. For instance, on the article about the Grace of God, the document says:

“We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.”

The statement then adds:

“We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.”

To read this statement in full, along with a reprint of the original ten-point statement, click here.

For the most part, the Reformed-dominated blogosphere has been somewhat silent on this, with most responses coming from within the Baptist movement where the SBC Today web page is more closely monitored.

Tom Ascol at Founder’s Ministries Blog disagrees with the document and has published three blog posts (so far, more to follow)  to respond. Before expressing concerns in part three however, he does provide a charitable, concise summary:

In essence, I believe that those who have published it are concerned by the rise of Calvinism among Southern Baptists at all levels of convention life, from local churches all the way down to various institutions and agencies. They think that Calvinism represents the views of only a small minority  while their own views represent the vast majority of Southern Baptists. They are concerned to be identified positively by what they do believe rather than negatively by what they do not believe (“non-Calvinist”). They have offered this document as a testimony to their beliefs and invite other Southern Baptists to sign it to show just how many agree with their views. By doing so, they do not want to intimidate or exclude Southern Baptist Calvinists, but rather are interested in asserting what they are convinced that most Southern Baptists believe on the doctrine of salvation.

[above link for this article, also available: Part One and Part Two]

At Pulpit and Pen, Jordan Hall writes:

…For example, consider the irony of articulating the “historic, traditional beliefs of Southern Baptists” by creating a new document. The premise itself is laughable. Could it just be our historic confessions and creeds do not suffice because they are, inherently, Calvinistic?

At the site BaptistTwentyOne, Jon Akin writes,

The statement is divisive for three reasons:

  • It inaccurately and unfairly describes the theology of the “New Calvinists.”
  • It implies that “New Calvinists” are having a detrimental impact on “contemporary mission and ministry” in the SBC without a shred of proof to back that up. It claims that the SBC has reached around the world with the Gospel “without ascribing to Calvinism,” and therefore fails to properly recognize that many godly Calvinists have contributed to the spread of the gospel through SBC cooperation in our history.
  • It is trying to unite a segment of Southern Baptist around a new theological statement, when the BFM2000 is enough to unite us in theology and mission.

and also

  • I could be wrong, and would be happy to admit it, but I don’t know any Calvinist who is arguing in print or sermon to make “Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation, “ or “the standard view in Southern Baptist life.”
  • The statement consistently responds to double predestination, therefore implying that this is the standard position of “New Calvinists,” when in reality it is a minority position, almost certainly an extreme minority. The statement only argues against double predestination and never really addresses what the biblical word “predestination” actually means in the text. The authors make it sound like the “New Calvinism” is fighting for double predestination, and that is simply not accurate.

Josh Buice at Delivered by Grace writes:

… As we move forward, do we want to be considered the “Fightin’ Baptists” or the “Religious version of the Hatifelds and McCoys?”…

…Furthermore, when SBC pastors, leaders, and professors sign this letter, it’s almost as if a line is being drawn in the sand and a request is being made for action.  What should the action be? …

… Have we forgotten our history as Southern Baptists where we had Calvinists such as Lottie Moon, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, A.T. Robertson, John A. Broadus, and many others who served in our convention along with those who were less Calvinistic (Reformed) in their doctrine?  They didn’t fight over it, throw mud, and pull out the heresy sword to use on one another.  In recent history we have had Albert Mohler serving together with Adrian Rogers.  Why are we headed down the broken road of schism over Calvinism today?…

There is more available online, and there will be even more as you’re reading this.  William F. Leonhart III, provides some historical context; apparently this isn’t the first time.

We’ll give Jordan Hall the last word on this:

Perhaps most offensive is [David] Hankins’ appeal to consensus. He says multiple times that “the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Calvinism.” He may be right. Statistics show that the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Christianity, let alone Calvinism. The majority of Southern Baptists can’t be found on Sunday morning. The majority of Southern Baptists are on Synergist church-rolls and are either dead or apostate because of the watered-down and anemic, shallow theology of Finney-style revivalism and easy-believism, decision-regeration that has eaten away at the SBC like a cancer. But Hankins is right; the majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists.

But c’mon Jordan, tell us what you really think.

April 27, 2012

Drawing the Body Together; Tearing The Body Apart

For years now I’ve been carrying on an ongoing dialog with a Pentecostal minister.  He was the one who first used the term, “the Charismatic-ization of Evangelical worship music,” while at the same time indicating that in many Assemblies of God and Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada churches, there is a decreasing presence of the gifts of utterance (particularly tongues and interpretation) such that the weekend service at a Pentecostal church now more resembles that of a mainstream Evangelical denomination, and the worship at the mainstream Evangelical church is slowly adopting elements (worship flow, extended songs, hands raised, etc.) once found only in Charismatic churches.

I was explaining that to someone this week when it suddenly occurred to me that the same time as there is a drawing together taking place along the charismatic axis, there is an increased distancing taking place along what we could label the Reformed continuum.

I call it the Reformed continuum and not the Calvinist-Arminian continuum because the issue is not predestination or eternal security. Those differences have always been, always will be, and do not come as a surprise to our Heavenly Father.  I’m referring instead to the way in which the New Calvinists, militant Calvinists, or YRR (Young, Restless, Reformed) crowd are slowly inching away from everyone else; slowly separating themselves from mainstream Evangelicalism, if — as some will want to argue — they were ever there.

I have written before how one of their number refers to insiders in their movement as “real friends of the gospel;” implying that the rest of us are not friends of the gospel; and how a popular online book distributor had to create a Reformed boutique site to earn the trust of Calvinist customers.

In August of 2010, I called this phenomenon the Cultization of Calvinism.

The larger picture is that it takes Reformed people and Reformed literature out of mainstream Evangelicalism, and takes mainstream Evangelicalism out of the Reformed sphere of awareness. It increases compartmentalization; a kind way of saying it advances what I’ve termed here the cultization of Calvinism, which, I would think from God’s perspective at least, is rather sad.

I believe one of the healthiest dynamics of Evangelicalism has been the cross-pollination that takes place through inter-denominational dialog (Br. – dialogue) and worship. Instead of conferences where only one theological brand is raised, we need to encourage events in which a variety of voices are heard. Instead of bloggers posting blogrolls where they are afraid to list someone who is outside their faith family, we need to be familiar with the much wider Christian blogosphere. Instead of encouraging Christian young people to only read certain authors and one or two particular Bible translations, we need to encourage them to study the wider compendium of Christian thought.

Two years later, I don’t want to return to that discussion here except to say that it’s notable that there is a shrinking of differences taking place along the Charismatic axis at the same time as differences become more pronounced — or perhaps, better to say borders become more pronounced — along another; not unlike the situation where the earth is at times closer to some planets and farther from others.

The subjectivity in this is huge. If you are old-school Pentecostal, and mourn the loss of tongues and interpretation, you have reason to be concerned. If you are Baptist, and find it genuinely upsetting when people raise their hands in worship, then you will dig in your heels and seek a more conservative faith family. If you are Reformed, you may find yourself become intolerant of mainstream Evangelicals if you view their views as heretical.

How this effects the corner of the Christian universe you call home I suppose depends on what potential interaction you have with people of both groups, or in which group you personally reside.

A wise person is one who will step back far enough to see the big picture, and note the trends taking place.

Image: Although the book in the graphic isn’t referenced in the article, the image was priceless, and I decided it was only fair to use the full jacket, acknowledging author Mark Johnston and Christian Focus Publications.  Learn more about it by clicking here.

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