Thinking Out Loud

February 16, 2018

Movement Caught in Freeze-Frame

Which one would you buy a used car from?

It’s those same old guys again.
Where are the up-and-coming leaders and teachers?
Does the movement have a succession plan?
Are there any rising stars?
If so, would they get an opportunity; a chance to gain a platform; or is it a closed shop?

Part of the payoff in doing this blog for ten years has been introducing people to communicators whom they might not have otherwise encountered to that point. I’m always interested in hearing what new people have to say; how they take the classic truths of scripture and breathe something fresh into it.

Right away I can hear some people thinking, ‘If it’s new it’s not true.’ This instant dismissal of the unfamiliar is valid if someone is propagating a different doctrine, but if it’s just a matter of clothing the gospel with different terminology, there should be no issue with that. God has gifted multiplied thousands of people, many of whom are exercising those gifts even as you’re reading this. I like to see a shared platform.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the perceived new-or-true dichotomy, we get emotionally bonded to certain words and phrases. I’ve told the story before of Bruxy Cavey speaking for 40 minutes on “the King-ship of Christ” and then being raked over the coals by a woman because he never once mentioned “the sovereignty of God.” She was in bondage to that phrase, and if she didn’t hear it, she tuned out everything which was said, even though it was exactly the same thing.

The same is true with authors and speakers. People get into a rut where they have their favorites, and it’s a closed set. There’s no room for succession. Sometimes these same people will stay home if it’s not the pastor preaching that Sunday. They might tell you they’re longing for “a fresh word from the Lord,” but they’re not interested if the Lord uses a fresh voice to make the delivery. Sometimes an entire movement can be failing to think in terms of succession. Or how frustrating it is to be a pastor in a particular movement with decades of experience and hundreds of stories, and yet never even be considered to share in that forum.

Which brings us to the picture above. Personally, I can’t begin to imagine why people would go back, year after year, to a convention with the same speakers as the year before, and the year before that. If you get it then you understand something important about the Together for the Gospel (aka T4G) mindset. If not, I’ll leave you to figure out what’s really taking place here; why the club is closed to new members.

(Even Bob Kaufflin, the music guy — one guy at a piano, not pictured above, for the entire weekend — is making his sixth consecutive appearance. Is there no one in this movement capable of bringing something different to that aspect of the conference? Trip Lee will be there to lead a seminar. That would be interesting.)

I look at the picture and I ask myself, ‘Which of these people would I buy a used car from?’ Chandler, maybe. Mohler looks like he’d be the one who owns the dealership. Platt looks like he just got promoted from the Service Department into sales; at least he’d know if the car is good mechanically. But DeYoung knows something about the car he’s not telling me. And Dever is charging me about $1K too much; I need to switch sales reps. Anyabwile was the first rep I talked to, but when I came back to ask for him, I couldn’t pronounce his name

Yeah, we’re better to stay with the used car analogy, because if we cross over from analogy to truth, it gets ugly. You’ve got a guy there who even people within the movement say needs to address things in his past before being a featured speaker. You’ve got a guy who has been tweeting nonsense, some of which makes Trump look sane by comparison. You’ve got a guy who’s got so much hate toward people outside the club. You’ve got people who’ve got to be part of this club by an accident of circumstances, and might have done better had they aligned with a different tribe.

But in April, they will gather; five Sola’s in one hand, five TULIP parts in the other, to declare the supremacy of The Gospel™, which of course they all agreed on before they arrived; and then head out to the bookstore to purchase the latest title from Crossway which will then be placed on their bookshelves, but not before they blog or tweet about how exciting it is to see a new release from ________ with some phrases copied and pasted from an online review and an overview of the Table of Contents.

Okay, that was over the top cynicism. I just have a passion for younger leaders, and there’s nobody on the T4G schedule that would cause me to board an airplane and fly to Louisville, Kentucky in mid April.

If you’re into this and you’re going, enjoy the convention. Tickets are now on sale.

From an outsider perspective, it looks like a bit of a yawner.


In 2014, I did a much longer article about T4G — after watching several days of the live feed — which you can read at this link. It resulted in the creation of this graphic; asymmetry is intentional.

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March 6, 2015

Compassion for Calvinists

Soteriology 101

For several months now I’ve been following the Twitter feed Soteriology 101. For those who don’t know the term, soteriology is one of the necessary doctrines which combine to form a whole, systematic theology; and deals with the means and understanding of salvation. I had listened to one of the podcasts but obviously wasn’t paying attention as fully as I did last night as we listened to this particular one. For example, I didn’t know who it was I was listening to, but earlier this morning a quick trip to the related website revealed this:

Leighton FlowersLeighton Flowers is a teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology at Dallas Baptist University, and the Youth Evangelism Director for TEXAS BAPTISTS. In this position he directs a statewide youth leadership training camp called Super Summer, impacting thousands of Christian teenagers with in depth Bible study and discipleship training. Leighton also directs the Youth Evangelism Conference, reaching anywhere between 3 to 5 thousand Texas teenagers with the gospel of Christ each year.

The March 3rd podcast we listened to started off with a song, directed at Calvinists called “Why Do You Have to be So Rude?” While I identified with the sentiment, I wondered if this podcast would be dealing in caricatures, or acting as a response to some of the various (and numerous) anti-Arminian websites, blogs and Twitter feeds.

Instead, the approach was much more compassionate, and in fact Flowers has a very high respect for some of Calvinism’s most known voices, this particular edition including much praise for John Piper.

I wish I had been taking notes, but on reflection, four things stood out. One was the place of Calvinism in the historical flow of what is now Evangelicalism. Flowers notes the trending nature of this doctrinal system, but clearly believes it is about to ebb. At a more micro level, he also dealt with the Reformed position within the Southern Baptist Convention, which some SBC pastors would like to see as the default doctrine.

The second thing was that militant Calvinism’s counterpart — call it militant Arminianism — is rather non-existent. That resonated with my own experience in the Christian blogosphere. (My running joke is that there are no Salvation Army bloggers because while everybody else is writing about it, they’re out there doing it.) On the Arminian side of things, the distinctions are simply not as magnified, and I would argue that most Arminians probably don’t know that they wear that label (or could if they wished).

The third thing was the compassion of the approach toward a young woman who had written in a story of her personal experience, and the compassion and empathy toward people in the Reformed camp in general. While the opening song was a bit extreme, it did serve to set up a contrast between the venom and anger one experiences online and Flowers’ more gentle approach. (For this reason, many confuse militant Calvinists with ultra-conservative Fundamentalists because the tenor of their writing is often so similar.) 

Lastly, Flowers seemed to tend toward grounding his position in terms of an understanding of the ways and nature of God.

Leighton Flowers landed on my radar a few months with a link to a 64-minute podcast, “Why I Am No Longer a Calvinist” which might also serve as an introduction to his perspective. (The podcast page on the website lists about ten different choices, all of which look interesting.) The one discussed here, at 52-minutes, is also reflective of his heart and I would say that overall, this is a most refreshing and balanced look at the two doctrinal patterns.

 

 

January 2, 2015

#the15 and Calvinist Hate Speech for Children

First of all, I promise we’ll do our best to move away from #the15 as a topic tomorrow and look at something else. I also modified yesterday’s post mid-afternoon yesterday slightly so as to not characterize the whole thing as a Reformed-based or Reformed-centered. More blurry lines. But you don’t have to follow TULIP to have that spirit, but again, as I said, the issue here was LifeWay, not who specifically was calling them out. The nuances to this story are endless…

However, from the beginning, I kept thinking I’d seen the name J.D. Hall somewhere*, and then I found this on my own blog, from Summer, 2013. The books in question indoctrinate children to fear Arminians (i.e. in this case, people who believe a different ‘religion’) so I wonder if a good lawyer here could prove that under Canadian law, they constitute hate speech, and it could actually be illegal to bring them across the border. I’m not about to find out.

Tag this “grieving the Holy Spirit…”


Help Arminians Are Giving Me Nightmares Again - Sample

Help Arminians Are Giving Me Nightmares AgainI hate it when I hear of children waking up with Arminian nightmares. Yes, seriously. Do I look like the kind of person who would make this up? From the description at Amazon:

Book Description
Publication Date: April 15, 2013

Come along on a journey with Mitchell, as he recalls his nightmare for his mother. Mitchell was in a land of darkness and gloom, when due to no cooperation of his own, a Knight in shining armor saved him and all the other captives He intended to save. “Help! Arminians are Giving Me Nightmares Again!” is a children’s allegory designed to teach your kids the Doctrines of Grace through the use of creative story-telling.

About the Author:

Hall is the pastor of Fellowship Church in Eastern Montana, where he lives with his wife, Mandy, and three children. JD is a co-founder of Reformation Montana, a network and mission society consisting of Reformed Baptist churches in Montana and the surrounding region. He is a columnist for the Intermountain Christian News, and operates the Pulpit and Pen website. JD received his B.A. in Christian Education from Williams Baptist College and M.A. in History from Arkansas State University.

Help Mom There Are Arminians Under My BedOh no! It’s part of a series of books…

We heard about this at the blog Spiritual Sounding Board which did an analysis of the doctrinal war going on in the comments section — and remember this is for a children’s book — at Amazon.

…We’ve talked about the idolatry of doctrine before. I believe the idolatry of doctrine can create an environment in which abuse is allowed to continue in churches. The obsessive focus on doctrine can become a distraction to the message of Christ and what it really means to live out the life Christ intended: loving God and loving others.

I have a problem with training children (sic) this stuff at such a young age. What is the purpose? To raise up little like-minded warriors to defend your brand of Christianity?…

…LDS carry their Bibles, too, along with the Book of Mormon when they go to their wards to worship. I have seen some combo versions that include the Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrines and Covenants. These are all part and parcel of LDS.

The way I’m seeing it, there are some Christians who behave the same way as Mormons. They have their Bible along with the Institutes of Calvin. I wonder if there is a combo Calvin Institutes/Bible in publication yet?…

Staging this doctrinal battle in the pages of a children’s book is indoctrinating kids at the earliest against anyone who is part of the Arminian tradition. It’s almost what we in Canada would call hate speech (which is illegal here) against groups such as the Wesleyan, Free Methodist, Anabaptist, Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Four Square, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Free Will Baptist, Charismatic, and many, many others.

Sadly, while the blog post at Spiritual Sounding Board — who is now over 450 comments since Saturday — gets a little worked up on this, we have to agree with her. The Reformed movement just sunk to a new low. This is unconscionable. This type of book is simply not of God.

The fracturing of the body of Christ continues…stay tuned.


* [Update] It turns out that was the only place I knew the name from. (Remember, I track about a hundred stories weekly.)  It gets worse: read more about him at this story.  This guy is a menace.


 

Related post: Drawing the Body Together, Tearing the Body Apart

July 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Abraham Isaac Jacob postage stamps

Summertime and the linkin’ is easy…Our biggest collection ever with 40 bullets!

How Cats Ended Up With Nine Lives

While not curating the internet, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud and C201.

Rapture Survivor Card

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

 

March 23, 2014

“We are the final arbiters of what God can use.”

Yesterday I made the mistake of wading in to the comment section of a blog which was very dismissive of a recently-released Christian film. The movie takes on a rather difficult subject and involves some doctrinal positions on which all might not agree. But ultimately, it’s a story of a young man’s courage in the face of spiritual opposition and his willingness to attempt to rise to the challenge and defend his faith in God’s existence.

The blog in question was agreeing with another blog that had totally dismissed the film. Completely. No redeeming qualities. Nothing of worth. I wrote,

…I can easily imagine a demographic who would be greatly encouraged by it, especially pre-university students.  It is, after all, the stuff youth group movies are made of.

And in that sense, this particular picture follows a long line of similar films. Not perfect. Definitely flawed. Scenes we would have written differently. Characters that might have been more developed. A plot line that seems contrived.

But isn’t that the basis of all Christian fiction? Doesn’t each novel begin with a plot contrivance that moves the story along? Aren’t all Christian novels and movies likely candidates for debate as to their spirituality?

I then wrote,

This type of review is simply all too-dismissive, and that’s where credibility is lost. Apparently there is absolutely nothing redeeming in this film. I totally get the reviewers concerns — perhaps the script is indeed rather lame in several places — but within the range of English communication there’s got to be a way to express those caveats that is less dogmatic, less damning.

And then I got attacked.

I should say that I have seen a couple of different previews of the film, so my remarks were not made in a vacuum, but I made the mistake of conceding I had not seen the full production, and that only provided a further opening.

And then I just felt sad.

I should never have commented on this particular blog. I am clearly an outsider. I am an outsider because I don’t go along with the party line, I don’t add my “like” the established consensus.

I think for myself.

I covered a lot of this fifteen months ago in a piece called Protect the Brand at all Costs. I guess I just needed a reminder of what I wrote at that time:

What I have issues with is … bloggers who only read their own authors, only quote their own leaders, only attend their own conventions, basically now only use their own Bible translation, and — this is actually happening — only sing their own songs.  I have written before how a previous generation longed to see a coming together of The Body of Christ in unity and now we are seeing increased fragmentation. And this fragmentation even extends to exclusivity, which is a mark of cult faith. And the printed and online output by Calvinists is so out of proportion to their actual numbers that they tend to dominate everyone’s lists of best books and best blogs.  Basically, a doctrinal preference has become a fortress wall.

There was a link to a review of the movie that raises the serious concern that the apologetics used in the film are weak and won’t withstand criticism in the real world. I can see that only because I see that happening in all our apologetic attempts. Some of our best books and many of our best arguments do have vulernabilities. That’s why someone so correctly observed that ‘it’s not any one argument that wins over skeptics, seekers, atheists and agnostics, it’s all the arguments combined.’

But to dismiss another person’s offering of their best to God in the form of what was no doubt a costly and time-consuming project is to me even more dangerous. As I learned in church this morning, there is a difference between judging and passing judgment. (Matt. 7:1-5, Romans 2:1)

The latter reference reads this way in The Message Bible:

1-2 Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

Defend your own brand if you feel you must. But don’t call another man’s work trash.

June 4, 2013

And Now, Calvinist Propaganda For Children

Help Arminians Are Giving Me Nightmares Again - Sample

Help Arminians Are Giving Me Nightmares AgainI hate it when I hear of children waking up with Arminian nightmares. Yes, seriously. Do I look like the kind of person who would make this up?  From the description at Amazon:

Book Description
Publication Date: April 15, 2013

Come along on a journey with Mitchell, as he recalls his nightmare for his mother. Mitchell was in a land of darkness and gloom, when due to no cooperation of his own, a Knight in shining armor saved him and all the other captives He intended to save. “Help! Arminians are Giving Me Nightmares Again!” is a children’s allegory designed to teach your kids the Doctrines of Grace through the use of creative story-telling.

About the Author:

Hall is the pastor of Fellowship Church in Eastern Montana, where he lives with his wife, Mandy, and three children. JD is a co-founder of Reformation Montana, a network and mission society consisting of Reformed Baptist churches in Montana and the surrounding region. He is a columnist for the Intermountain Christian News, and operates the Pulpit and Pen website. JD received his B.A. in Christian Education from Williams Baptist College and M.A. in History from Arkansas State University.

Help Mom There Are Arminians Under My BedOh no! It’s part of a series of books…

We heard about this at the blog Spiritual Sounding Board which did an analysis of the doctrinal war going on in the comments section — and remember this is for a children’s book — at Amazon.

…We’ve talked about the idolatry of doctrine before.  I believe the idolatry of doctrine can create an environment in which abuse is allowed to continue in churches.  The obsessive focus on doctrine can become a distraction to the message of Christ and what it really means to live out the life Christ intended:  loving God and loving others.

I have a problem with training children (sic) this stuff at such a young age.  What is the purpose?  To raise up little like-minded warriors to defend your brand of Christianity?…

…LDS carry their Bibles, too, along with the Book of Mormon when they go to their wards to worship.  I have seen some combo versions that include the Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrines and Covenants.   These are all part and parcel of LDS.

The way I’m seeing it, there are some Christians who behave the same way as Mormons.  They have their Bible along with the Institutes of Calvin.  I wonder if there is a combo Calvin Institutes/Bible in publication yet?…

Staging this doctrinal battle in the pages of a children’s book is indoctrinating kids at the earliest against anyone who is part of the Arminian tradition. It’s almost what we in Canada would call hate speech (which is illegal here) against groups such as the Wesleyan, Free Methodist, Anabaptist, Salvation Army, Church of the Nazarene, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Four Square, Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Free Will Baptist, Charismatic, and many, many others.

Sadly, while the blog post at Spiritual Sounding Board — who is now over 450 comments since Saturday — gets a little worked up on this, we have to agree with her. The Reformed movement just sunk to a new low. This is unconscionable. This type of book is simply not of God.

The fracturing of the body of Christ continues…stay tuned.


Related post: Drawing the Body Together, Tearing the Body Apart

April 20, 2013

New Calvinists Must Support the Brand at all Costs

There are many different nuances of meaning to the term propaganda, but one has to do with “what a group or organizations says about itself.”  While self-promotion is not a crime, there are times when there is simply no need for it, and one of those is in the area of Bible translation.  By all means do all marketing necessary to introduce your version. This is a subject that will deeply affect a high percentage of Christ-followers, so tell your story.

I love the book How to Choose a Bible Translation for all Its Worth by Mark Strauss and Gordon Fee. Yes, it’s published by Zondervan, but it is full of raw transparency as the translators wrestle over difficult decisions in making the original text understood by English speakers today. Recently I reviewed The Story of The Voice, a translation so remarkably different that the backstory is a delight to read, especially to see how much this new generation of translators revered, of all translations, the KJV.

Why Our Church Switched to the ESVBut you have to be careful if you are both publisher and beneficiary, and if your translation has already been in the market for many years, one also might question why a propagandist title like Why Our Church Switched to the ESV by Kevin DeYoung needs to be written at all.  But to question that is to not appreciate the need the New Reformers have to be seen defending the brand at all costs, and the ESV is definitely the default Bible translation brand for the New Reformed. 

I wrote about their brand loyalty here several months ago; and for the lesser lights in the movement, spiritual brownie points are earned by constantly re-blogging and re-Tweeting the writing of those more recognizable; many of whom themselves are constantly copy-and-pasting the writings of those higher up the Reformed hierarchy.

In reviewing DeYoung’s answer to the ‘Why” question, Derek Ouellette finds some inconsistencies in deYoung’s translation standards.  DeYoung also points out that his church switched to ESV from the NIV, and limits the book to a comparison of the two, at the expense of all other possible options. So by design, a book like this is going to have an anti-NIV orientation. Ouellette notes,

Anybody moderately versed in the Bible can hold two translations up and compare selected verses to show why one is better than another. The average reader will not have a counter-comparision book on hand which is why she or he should read a book like this with caution.

Choosing a BibleMy comment would simply be that this is not the first time around for Crossway to publish a book of this nature.  Leland Ryken’s 2005 book Choosing a Bible — same publisher, same price, same 32 pages — was similarly biased.  The publisher blurb states:

Leland Ryken introduces readers to the central issues in this debate and presents several reasons why essentially literal–word-for-word– translations are superior to dynamic equivalent– thought-for-thought–translation. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to recognize the need for a quality Bible translation.

Yes, and you don’t need to be a theologian to know propaganda when you see it, do you? The “dynamic equivalent” translation in view here is, nine times out of ten, going to be the NIV.

I realize that Why Our Church Switched… isn’t exactly a new release, but Derek Ouellette’s look at it reminded me that people need to be discerning about what motivates people to publish this and other similar things.  A good Bible translation will rise and fall on its own merits, and doesn’t need an apologetic serveral years down the road.

A verse that comes to mind here is Proverbs 27:2, and just to show there’s no hard feelings, I’ll quote it in the ESV:

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips.

January 8, 2013

Protect the Brand at all Costs

Some of my best friends are from the Reformed tradition. Well, maybe not best friends, but you get the idea. Heck, I’ve even preached the Sunday morning sermon in a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and I wasn’t reading it off a website transcript as some of their own people are required.

While I don’t agree with five-point Calvinism per se, I am really into total depravity. (Maybe I should re-phrase that?) I regularly include links here to some bloggers who I know represent the various aspects of the Reformed tradition. And I can disagree violently with someone on Tuesday and included a link to one of their stories on Wednesday. I think that’s what attracts people here. I am committed to the idea of the “holy catholic church” even though I wish the framers of the apostles creed had used a different word than “catholic,” which in this context means worldwide or universal.

What I have issues with is Calvinist bloggers who only read their own authors, only quote their own leaders, only attend their own conventions, basically now only use their own (ESV) Bible translation, and — this is actually happening — only sing their own songs.  I have written before how a previous generation longed to see a coming together of The Body of Christ in unity and now we are seeing increased fragmentation. And this fragmentation even extends to exclusivity, which is a mark of cult faith. And the printed and online output by Calvinists is so out of proportion to their actual numbers that they tend to dominate everyone’s lists of best books and best blogs.  Basically, a doctrinal preference has become a fortress wall.

Kevin deYoung's BlogrollNearly five years ago on this blog, I observed that perhaps the issue is that while this brand of Christ-follower prefers to make a massive, prolific literary output, other brands of Christ-followers are out living their faith. (I should add that the Reformed bloggers are one of a number of groups disproportionately represented online.)

Enough lead-in. What sparked this today? Actually it was a post on The Wartburg Watch about Tim Challies’ glowing — dare we say sparklingreview of a new book by Mark Driscoll.  I’ll leave you to click through to see that TWW writers have identified the over-the-top superlatives used in this puff piece. Defend the brand at all costs! Power to the mutual admiration society! For the writers at TWW, something doesn’t ring true.

One of Tim‘s readers writes:

If anything Tim, you definitely know how to kick the hornets nest.. A fair review, but it builds up a man that has done much to divide the brethren.You’re blog traffic should explode now. The Driscolites are loving you.

and

No. A good review to a good book is acceptable. But there are plenty of good books on this subject, and it is a disservice to the church to fail to point out along with the good review that this man is unqualified for the ministry by his lack of dignity, poor character, weak doctrine, obsession with sex, misuse of Scripture and abusive leadership style.

and

I’m not sure how I feel about people continuing to speak of Driscoll and review his books favorably. It seems to me that he’s ventured into dangerous territory, both sexually and spiritually, and that other pastors would be wise to take a step back from endorsing him as a consequence.

and whatever comments Tim Challies chose not to share on the blog.

So what would I like to see? Let’s give Challies the benefit of the doubt and assume he enjoyed the book in question. But let’s also suggest that someone in the movement take a deep, deep breath, and take a big, big step back and look at where their movement is heading and say, “Do we really want to cut ourselves off from everyone else?”

‘Cause honestly guys, I think you’re better served with some of us than you are without us. And someday you may need us to defend you.

Use the TWW link to locate Tim’s review of the Driscoll book.

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.

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