Thinking Out Loud

August 16, 2021

8 Things Calvinists Stole from Evangelicals

A few of our favorite things seem to be in the process of becoming private property. This is a look at eight of them.

First of all, the title is deliberately provocative. When I say “stole” I mean something closer to “co-opted.” For example, I would argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints co-opted the idea of doing door-to-door visitation in pairs. When Suburban Sam is getting ready to cut the grass on Saturday morning, and two people carrying literature walk toward his door, he doesn’t think. ‘Oh, look! It’s the Baptists’ annual visitation drive;’ even though that might possibly be true. He thinks, ‘Oh, it’s either JWs or Mormons.’

However, also true is that when I say ‘stole’ there is a sense in which I mean, ‘and we would like to have these things back.’ In most cases, anyway.

Finally, I need to say that this is reflective of the modern, internet-driven, modern Neo-Reformed or YRR (Young Restless & Reformed) movement of the past 20 years. This does not apply to members of more classical Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) or Reformed Church of America (RCA), etc.

The Word “Gospel”

This one is a no-brainer. Think “The Gospel Coalition” or the “Together for the Gospel (T4G)” conferences. It is also increasingly used as an adjective. If you are part of the movement it is de rigueur that the term occur at least once per paragraph in your blog posts and if you get a book deal, it needs to be somewhere in the subtitle.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It only stands to reason that people in the movement are going to latch on to the compatible writing of some classic authors who are no longer with us. But the situation with Spurgeon is somewhat unique in that, like the word “gospel,” familiarity with Spurgeon’s writing is necessary for the modern Reformed equivalent of cocktail party conversation. If you’re doing a podcast with video, the 5-volume set of Spurgeon’s Sermons should be visible on your bookshelf, or better yet, a hand-bronzed seven-inch (18 cm) bust of the man available from the website missionware.com.

The ESV

When the ESV was released in 2001, most of us knew Crossway Publishing of Wheaton, Illinois as the foremost producer of evangelistic tracts, sold in packs of 25; or as the go-to source for Max Lucado’s children’s book about wemmicks, the popular You Are Special. But they had strong Reformed roots, publishing works by Martin Lloyd Jones and the ever-prolific John MacArthur. When the ESV emerged, with endorsements from John Piper, Wayne Grudem, R. C. Sproul and Kevin DeYoung, it was clear that this tribe had their Bible, and if you were quoting a scripture passage in your blog, or getting a book deal, this was the version to use. Of course, the signature product is the ESV Study Bible and in the notes, you do see the doctrinal bias. I noticed it especially in the Olivet Discourse in John, and I’m willing to concede that the ESV was never ours to begin with, and was always intended as a denominational translation for the modern Reformed movement.

The SBC

Many articles have appeared over the past decade either celebrating or lamenting the fact that in many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the modern Reformed doctrine has become the default doctrine. With some churches, this is nothing new, and we have a number of Baptist groups (going back to the 17th Century) who felt the need to designate themselves as Free Will Baptists, in contrast to the idea of divine election or predestination. If a person is going to conflate SBC churches with modern Reformed doctrine and also conflate SBC churches with the current conservative political movement, then one might jump to conclusions which, even in an article like this one, might be a bit over-the-top. I’ll leave that one to Barna Research.

The Word “Grace”

In a meeting of The Inklings, C. S. Lewis is said to have arrived late, and asked what was being discussed. Told it was, “what separates Christianity from other religions,” he supposedly answered, without taking a breath, “Oh that’s easy, it’s grace.” Grace was already a popular name for some CRC churches, and it is a central Christian concept, but like the word “gospel” it’s been highly subscribed to by the modern Reformers and the phrase “doctrines of grace” is used in reference to 5-point Calvinism, as outlined in the acronym TULIP. Asking someone if a church teaches “the doctrines of grace,” is the equivalent to the Pentecostal question as to whether a church is a “full gospel church.” (If people in this movement could register both “gospel’ and ‘grace’ as trademarks, I’m sure they would.)

“In Christ Alone”

Most of us who grew up in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement were, if we had a knowledge of what was going on in the UK, aware of Stuart Townend who, like Graham Kendrick, was a major force there in what became modern worship, and particular what we now call “the modern hymns movement.” Stuart teamed up with Keith and Kristyn Getty to write what is undoubted the signature song in the genre, “In Christ Alone.” Most churches embraced the song on its initial release, with some quickly skating past the line, “the wrath of God was satisified;” even as in 2013 the PCUSA requested a lyric change (to “the love of God was magnified”) for its hymnal. The request was denied and the song doesn’t appear. Eventually, the Getty’s position in the movement was clarified by other writing and speaking and elsewhere the song is now bypassed in creating set lists for weekend services.

John Calvin

If you separate out the five doctrines of TULIP, and type ‘Did John Calvin believe in ______’ into a search engine, you get articles which clarify that the beliefs held by the 16th Century French theologian were quite different that the Neo-Reformed movement we find in 2021. Not only are the nuances of each unique, but he faced great criticism on other matters, such as his attitude toward the Jews. Some have been bold to suggest that Calvin would not identify with the modern movement which bears his name. Still, in the aforementioned hypothetical podcast, you’d also want a copy of his Institutes of the Christian Religion visible on the shelf. Which brings us to…

The Word “Reformed”

In the introduction, I mentioned groups such as the CRC or RCA, and where I live, the CRC congregation has a female pastor, whereas one need only spend a few minutes looking at the writing of John Piper to know that people in this movement are fiercely complementarian. I am confident in saying that I expect people in classical reformed denominations cringe when they hear the word used in reference to doctrines which simply don’t apply to them. (This does not eliminate the possibility that some people within the modern Reformed movement cringe when they read Piper’s writing or social media output.) While I’m thankful for the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s courage, there is no doubt that today, the word ‘reformed’ has taken on entirely new meaning which limits its broader use. 

That’s my list. If you think of anything else I should have included, let me know, or better yet, if you have stories of trying to connect with someone who has already been influenced by the movement’s particular use of certain forms or terminology, feel free to share.

 

May 28, 2019

On Issuing a “Farewell” to Those With Whom You Disagree

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:32 am

There’s a classic Negro spiritual, In That Great Gettin’ Up Morning. My parents owned a copy of the song covered by a group of white guys (not the version by the Gaither Vocal Band) and for some reason it got lodged in my brain Sunday morning while getting ready to leave for worship.

The song urges the listener to do what they can now in order to “fare well” at the sound of the trumpet ushering in the judgement of God. The chorus lyric (which is common to the GVB version) is “In that great gettin-up morning, fare thee well, fare thee well…”

At the same moment, my brain flashed back to the now iconic statement by John Piper to Rob Bell, “Farewell, Rob Bell;.” Piper’s pronouncement that Bell had officially left the fold of Evangelicalism (something Bell might agree with) and more importantly, left the fold of saved believers (something God might have told Piper that he didn’t tell everyone else.)

Piper’s statement was totally dismissive. It was the type of thing you say (more positively) to someone you don’t expect to see again; perhaps even someone who has died; but the context carried with it the tone of, “Get out of my life;” or “I never want to see you again.”

Despite this, the words themselves are actually a blessing. ‘Farewell’ is clearly a shortened ‘fare thee well,’ as vocabulary.com notes: “A farewell is also an expression of good wishes at a parting. If you’re leaving a job after being there a long time, your co-workers might throw you a farewell party.”

When someone in our lives announces that they are embarking on a bizarre career path or making an ill-advised investment, we might say, “Well…good luck with that.” We’re being equally dismissive, but the words themselves at least have a positive ring.

So are we really wishing the person the best of luck? Probably not insofar as it connects with the issue at the center of the interjection.

Nearly a year later, Christianity Today pressed Bell for a response to the many reactions his Tweet brought:

…my issue there was not primarily his view of hell. It was his cynicism concerning the Cross of Jesus Christ as a place where the Father atoned for the sins of his children and dealt with his own wrath by punishing me in his son. Rob Bell does not admire that. He doesn’t view the Cross that way, as a penal substitution. I consider that the essence of the Cross and my salvation, and the heart of God for me, and that ticked me off royally. I didn’t say all that, so probably everybody thought “Farewell Rob Bell” was kind of like “I don’t like his view of hell, so there.” Well, I don’t like John Stott’s view of hell either, and I never said anything about John Stott. I kept learning from John Stott. I would have sat at John Stott’s feet until the day he died.

In another article which responded to Piper, Justin Taylor wrote that, “it is better for those teaching false doctrine to put their cards on the table (a la Brian McLaren) rather than remaining studiously ambiguous in terminology.”  

Was it right for Piper to condemn Bell? He certainly wasn’t alone, but there was such an unbelievable degree of snark in the remark (that rhymes!) that it is now part of Piper’s legacy, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing…

…Seven years later, in March 2018, Piper’s remark was not forgotten:


I tried to locate a version of the song which comes close to remember, but this is the best I could find.

 

July 23, 2015

The Calvinist and the Altar Call

I don’t want to take a lot of time over-introducing the video segment here, lest I fall into the trap of putting some spin on it; but in this 11-minute clip there is a strange juxtaposition between the revivalism of John Piper’s description of his traveling evangelist father, and the context of the Calvinist audience to whom he is speaking. If your mind and hearts are open, there is a moment of unusual transparency here where we learn as much about the speaker as we do about the place of pleading in the salvation process.

This clip was posted (or re-posted) by Free Gift Media, a new resource I am just being made aware of. To learn more check their Twitter and their website.

August 9, 2014

“Oh, are you any relation to John Piper?”

I would not want to grow up in the shadow of a famous person, let alone a celebrity in the present Evangelical/Christian milieu, so after listening to several episodes of The Happy Rant Podcast, of which Barnabas Piper is one of three hosts — I decided it was time to see how iconic Calvinist John Piper fared in his son’s book, The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity.

The Pastor's Kid - Barnabas PiperDespite a rather intense introduction from the elder Piper, no family secrets were revealed, in fact there is such a universality to this story that perhaps it should be titled, The Church Leader’s Kid, or The Board Member’s Kid, or The Sunday School Teacher’s Kid, or even The Usher’s Kid. (Note: This list was not presented in descending order; I am not implying that ushers are any less important than board members.) The point is that all of us who grew up in church sometimes feel undeniable pressure to be good.

The book itself is rather light reading, though this is not a light subject. The younger Piper comes at this from various perspectives and with absolute transparency. The ministry life is an individual calling, but as I know from my own household, spouses and offspring get dragged into that life whether they want it or not.

The immersion into ministry life for a child is not simply a matter of meshing a church schedule to a school and sports schedule. The expectations are gigantic.

In some sense the “Bible expert” identity is one that PKs can’t help. It takes very intention effort not to learn biblical facts and references when it is your parents’ full-time job and home life both. We absorb biblical knowledge passively whether we care to or not. And the higher expectation naturally follows.

When you combine this ever-present reality with the fact we are the progeny of clergy, a further challenge arises — PKs are often expected to be theologians (sometimes by our parents, usually by the church). This is distinctly different than being a “Bible expert,” someone who knows the facts of Scripture. Being a theologian is a discipline, a cause, a passion. People expect that one of our great passions will be the systematized exploration and explanation of God. And while it is good for everyone to give careful thought to the things of God, the expectation of “theologian” placed on PKs is much more than that.  (pp. 52-53)

The book also is strong in its examination of the relationship of the PK to the pastor/parent.

American church culture has created a double standard for pastors. They are expected to be dynamic leaders, teachers, counselors and organizational heads. And one of the job qualifications is that they be dynamic family men. These two demands would not necessary be at odds except that both far surpass reality. Pastors are expected to be superior in both roles, even when they are at odds with each other.   (p.  119)

If the church wins the battle for the man’s time, the family (i.e. especially the kids) lose. “What we get are the leftovers. When that happens, while he may be seen as great pastor, he is a flop as a parent.”

Barnabas Piper and John PiperThere is more than a direct hint from Barnabas that his famous father really isn’t drawn to any particular hobbies.  In a rare candid paragraph he laments that “…to this day, I still yearn to have a shared hobby with my father, something as simple as golf or hiking. Such little things have big meanings.” While I am not a pastor myself, I saw myself in this section of the book, especially the notation that, “…what he loved was studying, theology, writing and preaching — not exactly the hobbies to share with a twelve-year old.”

That’s possibly why I said the book really has a more general application, especially for Christian men. I know men aren’t big consumers of Christian books, but the 137 pages of core content here includes 21 essentially blank pages (something publisher David C. Cook is frequently guilty of) so at least the guys will feel they are making progress as they read.

As universal as are the parenting issues this book speaks to, the very designation “PK” shows that the issues are unique.

You can tell we have a reputation because we get our own abbreviation. You don’t see a teacher’s kid getting called a “TK” or a salesman’s kid getting called an “SK.”  (p. 23)

There are two things that are absent from The Pastor’s Kid which I feel are worth noting.

First, Barnabas is the son of both a famous preacher and a famous preacher’s wife. (Some churches even refer to the Pastor’s wife as the church’s “First Lady,” in the same sense as the wife of the U.S. President.) Perhaps he is saving this for a sequel, establishing a brand. (The Pastor’s Wife followed by The Pastor’s Cat and Dog.) It’s also possible that Noël Piper wisely suggested something like, ‘Leave me out of it.’ Either way, there is only a passing reference to his mother.

Second, and more importantly, while the subject frequently arises, there isn’t nearly enough direct treatment of what Barna Research refers to as Prodigal Pastors’ Kids. Perhaps their circumstances make them overly visible, but we all know PKs who have gone off the deep end, either theologically or behaviorally. (See infographic below.)

Those two things said, this is still an important book and one that every elder, board member needs to read, as well as passing it down the line to kidmin and ymin workers who deal with the PKs in Sunday School, midweek club, or youth group.


Thanks to Martin Smith of David C. Cook Canada for a chance to come late to the review party and still get a seat!  For another excerpt from the book, see the second half of this devotional at C201.

Barna Research - Prodigal Pastors' Kids - from infographic

July 7, 2014

The Happy Rant Podcast

Church Clothes 2.5 John Piper LecraeOkay…I’m staying loyal to the Phil Vischer Podcast (and they’ve got video) but I now have new audio podcast favorite.

The Happy Rant is Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck

Self-described as “talking about things that don’t matter,” the latest, Episode 5, looks at alternative study Bibles we’d like to see. (Didn’t Mad Magazine do this premise?)

The Andre the Giant Study Bible
The Zangief from Street Fighter Study Bible
The Tootie from Facts of Life Study Bible
The Other Girl from Facts of Life, The One Who Is a Christian Speaker Study Bible
The Crease from Karate Kid Study Bible
The Dwight Schrute Study Bible
The “The Situation” Study Bible
The Chaz Marriot Study Bible
The “Platform” Study Bible
The Pete Rose Should Be in the Hall of Fame Study Bible
The Lloyd Dobler Study Bible
The U2 Lyrics Study Bible
The Mike Seaver Study Bible
The Super Bowl Shuffle Study Bible feat. William “The Refrigerator” Perry
The Twitter Every Word Is Hashtagged and Every Name is Squigglied Study Bible
The 1986 Mets Featuring Daryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez and Mookie Wilson Study Bible
The Joyce Meyer Study Bible

or this suggestion, “I want a Minnesota Sports Fan Study Bible which basically consists of Job, Ecclesiastes and Revelation.”

They also discuss John Piper’s upcoming gig with Lecrae, hence today’s graphic.

To listen to the podcast, click this link.

January 29, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Bible is like a software license
A lot of people are critical of short-term missions, but right now, a plane ticket to somewhere warm would look really appealing. In the meantime, here are some links to keep you warm, clicking anything that follows will take you to PARSE at Christianity Today and then you can click through from there.

We leave you today with “the thrill that’ll gitcha when ya get your picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.”  In this case, Pope Francis in the current issue; click the image to read the story.

Pope Francis Rolling Stone Cover

Paul Wilkinson is based in Canada — “You liked the first Polar Vortex so much we’re sending you another one” — and blogs at Thinking Out Loud and Christian Book Shop Talk

January 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

When is a bargain not a bargain

I spent a lot of the week listening to Christian radio stations from around the world on DeliCast.com; so the temptation was to make the entire list this week simply links to all the wonderful stations I found. However, reason prevailed…  Each of the following will lead you back to Out of Ur, a division of Christianity Today, where you may then click through to the stories.

Paul Wilkinson writes from Canada (Motto: Home of the Polar Vortex) and blogs at Thinking Out Loud and edits Christianity 201, a daily devotional.

 

November 20, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Times of Testing

If your work week runs Monday to Friday, by noon on Wednesday you’re ‘over the hump,’ but the Baptist in me still blushes when someone says, “Happy Hump Day!”  With that, I think we’d better quickly move on to the links which you’ll find at Out of Ur.

The Wednesday Link List is written by Paul Wilkinson who blogs the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.  Professional stunt blogger. Do not attempt at home. Offer not valid in Wisconsin or Hawaii.

Sister Mary Clara Vocation Doll

November 18, 2013

Were Strange Fire Participants Caricatured?

First of all, I want to start a rumor that John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference was actually a misspelling of its original name, Strang Fire Conference, named after Stephen Strang, the publisher of Charisma Magazine. I think with all that’s gone on before, during and after the conference, this story has as much plausibility as anything else.

Second, a question: Am I the only one who found the presence of Joni Eareckson Tada at the even somewhat unsettling?  I mean, I’m sure that over a lifetime she’s been besieged with people wanting her to “claim her healing.” Who wouldn’t want to see someone of her profile get up out of that wheelchair and walk? But Joni is more than a movie and a paperback biography. Her writings on various topics have earned her the right to be heard as a serious theological author, and if she falls on the cessationist side of the dispensational equation, so be it. I still find her inclusion in the conference…unsettling.

But mostly today, I want to direct you to an article at Desiring God (well, there’s a first for this blog!) dealing with what John Piper may have been quoted as saying, or characterized as saying, and what he really believes about spiritual gifts. Here’s a sample:

John PiperAt the conference, Piper was characterized as open to the gifts but not advocating for them or encouraging others to pursue the gifts themselves. This is a misunderstanding, says Piper. “I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 12:31, ‘earnestly desire the higher gifts.’ And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:1, ‘earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you might prophesy.’ And I advocate obedience to 1 Corinthians 14:39, ‘earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.’ I want Christians today to obey those texts.”

And Piper seeks to obey those texts himself. “I pray for the gift of prophecy almost as often as I pray for anything, before I stand up to speak.” This prayer for prophecy is a desire to preach under an anointing, in order to “say things agreeable to the Scriptures, and subject to the Scripture, that are not in my manuscript or in my head as I walk into the pulpit, nor thought of ahead of time, which would come to my mind, which would pierce in an extraordinary way, so that 1 Corinthians 14:24–25 happens.”

For years John Piper’s words dominated the Christian blogosphere. I never quite got that. I think he’s still worshiped as some kind of God by various hyper-Calvinists and militant Reformers. But let’s set all that aside today, and consider the possibility that the man offers a great deal of balance on this issue.

Continue reading Piper Addresses Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos at Desiring God.

May 23, 2013

What Not To Post Online During a Crisis

Filed under: internet, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

When tragedies happen, you want to post something like this:

Pray for Oklahoma

not something like this:

John Piper - after Oklahoma May 20

Michael Frost was kind enough to post on Twitter: ‘John Piper should sack whoever writes his tweets for him.” giving Piper a pass on the responsibility. Tuesday night the post had been removed from JP’s feed. 

UPDATE 5/24/13 — Piper explains why the Twitter posts were removed.

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