Thinking Out Loud

January 12, 2018

Theological Comparisons: What Type of Church Do You Attend?

I’ve been amazed recently at people who attend a church which has a denominational affiliation, but they don’t know what it is. Visiting? Maybe. You’re just passing through. Attending frequently? I would have thought it was a basic question. When it comes to actual doctrines, overarching theology, spiritual values, church culture and core beliefs1 I would think people would want to know where their church fits in across various spectra2 but apparently if the worship is good, the children’s ministry is high quality, and the sermons are engaging, people are happy not knowing whose name is on the door.

A few days ago we asked the question, “What is a Charismatic.” It seems to me that a diligent blogger could start a series on this, “What is a Baptist?” and “What is an Episcopalian?”3 being next in line. Unfortunately I am not that writer. However…

We started the work week on Monday with Michael Patton, so it seemed like a good place to end the work week. First of all, for those of you who are subscribers, I need to clarify something that we updated a few hours after the piece appeared, and that is that Michael’s blog Parchment and Pen migrated to CreedoHouse.org. The specific article, What Does it Mean to Be Charismatic which we quoted, is available in full at this link.

In the interest of getting it right this time, while I couldn’t find the image below at the new site, a full explanation of it appears at this link.

My motivation in all this is often very perfunctory. As regular readers know, I spend at least two days per week serving customers in a Christian retail store. So when the above chart first appeared, I introduced it as follows:

Sometimes, I have to admit, I need to be able to put people into a box.

It’s not that they will necessarily fit into the box comfortably, but frankly it saves time; it lets me know what set of terminology to use; it indicates to me what schools of doctrinal thought are off limits; it helps me find common ground with authors or worship styles or even Bible translation preferences.

This is not good.

However, sometimes it does cut to the chase. Give me some indicators and let me make assumptions. Is that the ESV Study Bible you’re holding? Here’s a new book from John Piper you might enjoy. You attend the Revival Center? You might enjoy the new Jesus Culture album.

Stereotyping, as we once called it; today it’s called profiling.

The same day as that ran, I also ran another chart, this one from Matt Stone. His blog has also migrated, but at the risk of making the same mistake twice, I did more research this time, and the chart can now be located at this link. The new website is called Curious Christian (and he’s still very much into visuals.)


I hope this helps somehow! I realize the title of today’s piece asks a question and only gives you a minimalist framework to formulate an answer, but such as the two graphic images are, they help us get back the superficial (see cartoon above) and think about things in more important terms.


1 This phrase is all about the cadence and rhythm of the sentence. Some of the words themselves are redundant. Speaking of words, it’s interesting that the modern dichotomy of Calvinism and Arminianism is nowhere to be seen in the two graphics.
2 Spectra, as in plural of spectrum. Usually churches can be measured in terms of where they land on the spectrum for three or four major discriminators. Instead of a double-axis graph, picture something that looks more like an asterisk.
3 Or, if you prefer Anglican; but although based in Canada, I’m writing for a dominantly U.S. audience, so Episcopal it is! Some would argue that only those within a particular movement can accurately describe it or write about it. What do you think?

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December 23, 2014

Calvinist Manifesto

Filed under: Church, theology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:54 am

Recently unearthed, or it should have been:

 

“Our goal is to completely dominate Christian publishing and internet media so that anyone, searching out any topic related to scripture or Christian living will land on one of our publications from one of our authors connected to one of our churches which is linked to our parachurch and conference organizations; and all quotations contained therein will be from the ESV.”

I want to continue where I left off yesterday. Consider this a two-part year-end rant.

I don’t mind if people want to believe differently on issues such as Bible translations, women in ministry, eschatology (end times), whether children should partake of the communion elements, the role of the laity in church life, or a host of other subjects. God knew what he was doing and his divine providence, he seems to have left a variety of things open to interpretation. Working out your salvation seems to involve a certain amount of thinking.

What I object to is the attitude that overshadows everything else when it comes to certain denominational tribes.

The problem with being so preoccupied with being right, is that it comes across Pharisaical, or to put it another way, not very Christ-like.

But all that is symptomatic. There’s also the issue of the underlying cause.

Here’s what I think: Some people simply want to be in control.

The nice thing about having God in a box is that once you have God all figured out, in a sense Christian growth has been achieved, the only thing left at that point is to amass further knowledge. When everything is word-based instead of Spirit-led, you end up simply wanting more words, more background, more truth, more axiomatic principles; and then there is no place for experience, no room for the Holy Spirit.

This then manifests itself in different ways, especially in print and online, and one of those is a very troll-like attitude, where there is, as we showed yesterday, a quote from an author you regard as outside your particular fence, and, like the proverbial kid with the finger who wants to test the ‘Wet Paint’ sign, you simply can’t leave it alone.

You have to defend the brand at all costs.

And you have to be seen as a brand defender.

And you have to re-post every article or book excerpt by the other brand-defenders because then you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

My point here is this: Try to identify this when you see it and resist the temptation to become absorbed into this mindset, resist the tendency to end up becoming like them.

Having God all wrapped up may look enticing. Having a God you somewhat control may be self-satisfying. But eventually, God breaks out of the box and you’re left with the wrapping paper strewn all over the floor. Because you never should have tried to contain him.


Related:

October 18, 2013

Adding Fuel to the Strange Fire

strange-fire

I told her that during the 18 days I would be in Southern California, I wanted to visit some churches. She recommended a few — some of which I later wished I had not skipped — but seemed adamant as to the one I should not bother with, mentioning the name of a pastor, John MacArthur who I had never heard of. The woman had grown up Pentecostal, and noted that the man, in her words, “has not been very kind to us.”

John MacArthurThat was a long, long time ago. Fast forward a few more years, and I heard the same pastor’s name mentioned in terms of “dispensational theology” (a term I was yet to fully grasp) and again, his antagonism toward the Charismatic movement in general.

All this to say, by way of introduction, that this week’s Strange Fire Conference comes as no surprise, either to me or to many others. This is, in every sense, the conference John MacArthur has been building toward for a lifetime; it is his legacy culminating 50 years of ministry.

Hyperbole has its place, and Jesus Himself used a variety of rhetorical devices to get His hearers’ attention. But according to the tone and tenor of the conference we’ve been hearing about this week, and in prior promotional videos, this is a slap in the face to each and every one of our Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters. As one writer stated, with broad brush strokes, MacArthur paints a picture of Charismatics that is as anchored in reality as it is to state that the Westboro folks are representative of all things Baptist.

Rather than continue to write further about a conference I didn’t attend or watch, I want to give you some links to articles written by those who, either in person or through the internet, had front row seats. These represent some of the Christian blogosphere’s top writers:

Patton:  John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

I should say that not everything online presupposes MacArthur’s error in promoting and presenting this conference.  Frank Turk at Team Pyro comes off his hiatus to basically challenge any and all among the Charismatic community to a spiritual duel of sorts, to take place on the field of podcast audio.

And if you want balance, I find Tim Challies gets into great detail with his live blogging of each speaker.

I have to confess I have not read all Tims Challies’ exhaustive articles in full, but with him and the other writers linked here, I would encourage you to read the comments as well as the articles.

There will be more. The conference runs all day today, 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM.  You can watch some of the live stream at this link.

May 8, 2012

And What Church Do YOU Go To?

Filed under: theology — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:18 am

Sometimes, I have to admit, I need to be able to put people into a box.

It’s not that they will necessarily fit into the box comfortably, but frankly it saves time; it lets me know what set of terminology to use; it indicates to me what schools of doctrinal thought are off limits; it helps me find common ground with authors or worship styles or even Bible translation preferences.

This is not good.

However, sometimes it does cut to the chase. Give me some indicators and let me make assumptions. Is that the ESV Study Bible you’re holding? Here’s a new book from John Piper you might enjoy. You attend the Revival Center? You might enjoy the new Jesus Culture album.

I guess I think about these things a lot. And so does C. Michael Patton who has created this theological map:

But now you need to understand his terminology.

For that you need to link to this post at Parchment and Pen.

Ultimately, no two people are going to invent a map of theological systems identically. But where these things can be useful is if it starts us thinking along certain lines, and especially when we start asking ourselves, “Where do I fit into a map like this?”

Postscript: I went looking for something similar online and ended up being routed back here to this, something I got two years ago on Matt Stone’s blog:

Today’s homework:

  1. Are you cautious about putting people in a box or do you find yourself doing it somewhat recklessly?
  2. Do you find the first chart above a helpful shortcut to understanding where someone fits in?
  3. Does all this seem judgmental?
  4. Do you know where you fit in with each of the charts above?

May 22, 2011

Roger Olson: “I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not a Christian.”

Roger Olsen: It began when a “Piper cub” (Bethel students who were passionate fans of John Piper) came to my office and said “Professor Olson, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not a Christian.”  I said “Oh,why is that?”  “Because you’re not a Calvinist,” he replied.

In his blog, Olson, who you may remember from Finding God in the Shack, explains how he came to write Against Calvinism, and how he recruited Michael Horton to write Against Arminianism, which was retitled, For Calvinism.  If you’re still a bit hazy on the difference between the two theological approaches, pause for a moment and click here before continuing.


This book is finished but not yet published.  It will be published by Zondervan in October (if not before).  The impetus for this book goes back a long way.  It began when a “Piper cub” (Bethel students who were passionate fans of John Piper) came to my office and said “Professor Olson, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not a Christian.”  I said “Oh,why is that?”  “Because you’re not a Calvinist,” he replied. 

I still remember that student’s name many years later.  I asked him “Where did you get the idea that only Calvinists are Christians?”  He said “from my pastor, John Piper.”  Years later I recounted that story to Piper who laughed and claimed he never said that.  But I encountered other people who gained that impression from listening to him speak. 

I didn’t feel the time was right to write the book until about two years ago and I approached my editor at Zondervan about it.  She was enthusiastic about the idea, but the publisher wanted to publish a book entitled Against Arminianism simultaneously with mine.  They asked me for recommendations for an author.  I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified than my friend Michael Horton who agreed to write it with the revised title For Calvinism. It was my idea to have him write the Foreword to my book and for me to write the Foreword to his–to make clear that Calvinists and Arminians can profoundly disagree with each other without hating each other. 

What brought me to the realization that the time was right to write Against Calvinism was the tidal wave of passionate but often unreflective Calvinism among especially young evangelical men.  I met and talked with so many of them and often discovered they had never thought about some of the problems with Calvinism.  Often, when I pointed those out to them, they gradually gave up their Calvinism.  I became convinced that “high federal Calvinism” (5 point Calvinism) including especially “double predestination” was so full of flaws that anyone who saw them and took them seriously would have to amend his or her Calvinism.  (I make clear in the book’s Introduction that I am not against every and all Calvinism but only against that particular kind of Calvinism.) 

I had one very providential moment while doing my research.  I needed to find an American Reformed evangelical theologian who had come to reject high federal Calvinism while remaining Reformed.  I had read Berkouwer, but he was Dutch and didn’t quite fit the bill.  I was browsing in a used theology bookstore and saw The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit by the late Fuller theology professor James Daane.  I knew of him from some essays and knew that he, like Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga, has revised Reformed theology.  I bought the book for about $5 and it became an invaluable asset for writing my book.  I quote Daane extensively in Against Calvinism.  Daane blasted what he called “decretal theology” (represented by, for example, Lorraine Boettner–the R. C. Sproul of an earlier generation) for de-historicizing and therefore de-personalizing God and God’s relationship with the world.  Many of his criticisms parallel and echo Berkouwer’s (who was his teacher) and T. F. Torrance’s and, of course, Barth’s.  If I had not found that book in that obscure used bookstore, my book would have been much poorer.  I really do believe God led me to it.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, but it is out of print.  Read Against Calvinism to get its essence.

HT: Derek at Covenant of Love


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