Calvinism Envy

Mark Tooley wishes Methodists were more like Calvinists. (H.L. Mencken couldn’t tell a difference when it came to Prohibition and World War I.)

Calvinists are sometimes mocked but they do have their own élan. These determined people endured the flames, created their own cosmology, generated revolutions, crossed oceans, conquered virgin lands, built civilizations, and writ themselves large across history. Calvinism inspired literature, art, work ethics, and systems of governance. Theirs is a world of fire and drama. Think John Knox, Oliver Cromwell, Jonathan Edwards, Rembrandt, Hester Prynne wearing the brand of her Scarlet Letter, Woodrow Wilson, George C. Scott in “Hardcore,” or a bewhiskered Francis Schaeffer in his lederhosen traipsing about the Alps. They may not always be easily lovable but they must command respect. Theirs is a firm, unflinching identity.

As a Methodist, I’m jealous of the Calvinists. . . . Where’s the drama in Methodism? Methodists typically are amiable people, earnest, quiet, dutiful, often colorless, diligent but not renowned for intellectual rigor, art, literature or political theory. Methodism transformed Britain, shaped America, and has influenced the world. It fostered education, charity, philanthropy, a democratic ethos, and social reform. But Methodism doesn’t easily spark the electricity that Calvinism often has. Instead it evokes images of potluck suppers, hymn sings and ice cream socials. Very nice.

In point of fact, Methodism did once spark experimental, culture-transforming Protestantism with the best of the Edwardseans. The problem was that it cooled off the way most movements do when they organize and form structures. Then Wesleyanism needed the kick of Holiness (read Nazarenes) or a second dollop of the Holy Spirit (read Pentecostals) to reignite the fire.

The source of Tooley’s envy is John Piper’s recent poem, The Calvinist, set to video. (The sort of financing, planning, and producing that go into even a small video like this do tend to sap the vigor of even Piper’s earnestness.) Here are a few lines:

See him on his knees,
Hear his constant pleas:
Heart of ev’ry aim:
“Hallowed be Your name.”

See him in the Word,
Helpless, cool, unstirred,
Heaping on the pyre
Heed until the fire.

See him with his books:
Tree beside the brooks,
Drinking at the root
Till the branch bear fruit.

It won’t rival Horatio Bonar, so why did it turn Tooley’s head? It likely goes back to the way that Puritanism has dominated the English-speaking world’s idea of Calvinism. And of course, no Protestant group, not even those world-changers, the Dutch-American Calvinists, can rival the way that the Puritans continue to enrapture and repel.

But if Tooley wants to see a different strain of Calvinism, one less exceptionalist and more restrained, he only needs to visit any congregation of the OPC. There he will find pot-fatalist suppers, hymn sings, and even the avoidance of stimulants (e.g., grape juice). That’s not a put down or a recommendation. It is (what it is) a communion Christ founded.

52 thoughts on “Calvinism Envy

  1. “Methodists are Baptists who can read.”

    But any OPC congregation? Sorry, the personal testimony time recently at one did not exactly convey Reformed restraint. More like Wesleyan fanfare. An dthat’s a criticism.


  2. Piper’s 10th grade English teacher is thrilled. He surely wrote this line for you, DGH:

    See him in the square,
    Kept from subtle snare:
    Unrelenting sleuth
    On the scent of truth.


  3. Try I do to be a bard
    But them poems they is hard
    But since I am celebriTY
    Your only hope is brevity.

    If you’re a celebrity and you need help to stay grounded call Muddy Consulting.


  4. Wow, that Piper video ticks all the YRR boxes. Urbanism, artisanal, beard, flat cap, mild hipsterism, earnest to a fault, emotional honesty, authenticity. Marketing is just grand. How long until Piper, Inc. trademarks the C-word.


  5. I might be a little “jelly'”of Butters (South Park) but not of any catholic protestant who thinks he can include both Calvinism and Arminian revivalism into one attractive package (which excludes only those who exclude themselves by insisting on antithesis).

    In Taste and See (Multnomah,1999, p 325), John Piper endorsed the conditional false gospel. “Christ died for all sinners, so that IF you will repent and believe in Christ, then the death of Jesus will become effective in your case and will take away your sins. ‘Died for you,’ means if you believe, the death of Jesus will cover your sins. Now, as far as it goes, this is biblical teaching.”

    Piper then went on to disagree with Arminians for not teaching that Christ died to purchase faith for the elect. But Piper does not disagree with the Arminians about the justice and the nature of propitiation and substitution and punishment.

    This schizophrenic (split-level) approach to Calvinism does not make me FEEL envy. It does make me FEEL both angry and sad. I myself used to condition the salvation of a sinner on what God would do in the sinner.

    :That which is highly esteemed among humans is abomination in the sight of God.: Luke 16:15

    Romans 6:20,21–”when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed. The end of those thing is death”

    It is legal union with Christ’s death for the sins of the elect which will justify the elect and set them free. Before their justification, they may have already been ashamed of immorality. But they were not ashamed of their piety, their self-righteousness, or of their attempts to cooperate in the building of their own righteousness in attempts to gain assurance by a pattern of obedience to God’s laws.

    Now, when I remember my Arminian past, I FEEL sick and embarrassed. I don’t try to rationalize and excuse it, or try to make it somebody else’s fault for not telling me the truth. Now I count all that as trash (Philippians 3). I flush it down the bowl, and without reaching down in the bowl to recover some stuff that people still envy.


  6. C-Dubs and Muddy, those is awesome.

    The Mark wants to be like Piper
    but in designer jeans and with a ghost writer
    Oh, the dreams they assail
    mostly blue and behind the veil


  7. Sean — Pastor Mark poetry. Color me inspired.

    shirt untucked
    if I swing you duck
    wussy males not needed
    my words should be heeded
    I know what you’re thinking
    (no seriously, I do)
    I haven’t been drinking…much


  8. Did Piper ever recant his association with Daniel Fuller? Now that he’s a Calvinist and all, he might want to do that.

    Erskine’s poetry is better.


  9. Chorts, there’s people that draw inside the lines, people that draw outside the lines, and people that don’t see the lines so good. If the blasted lines would just stop moving I’d try staying inside.


  10. What lines?! This is 8 mile throwing hooks through the roof. What what! Step to it, if you think you got sumpin! WORD!


  11. Chortles,

    Cool link/graphic. Did you notice the unfortunate typo “Protestantism devolved from…”


  12. Darryl, I’m surprised you didn’t note the poem’s, er, utter lack of anything distinctively calvinistic?

    Note the beautiful [nonexistent] portrayal of the means of grace, corporate worship, marks of the church. Note the utterly monastic lifestyle the guy lives (more overt in the visuals than the text, but only a stanza or two on actually engaging the world). Note the inwardness.

    I expect this from Piper, but sad to see the other Celebretants signing on and voicing the thing. Sproul at least should know better, but I suppose he’s way past that point.

    And of course, “See him…” but don’t mind “her.” Nothing wrong about a poet making a artistic choice of gender, but if you also happen to be a preacher and your titling your work “The Calvinist,” maybe you should include a broader view of the image of God. Maybe “The Calvinista” is coming out next year.


  13. What I’d really like to see is this kind of video workup on Smoking Spiritualized… or at least a spoofy sendup with really poor production quality. And I can’t think of anyone better to underwrite it than Nicotene Theological Journal. I love the Law/Gospel.

    Smoking Spiritualized
    Part I

    This Indian weed now wither’d quite,
    ‘Tho’ green at noon, cut down at night,
    Shows thy decay;
    All flesh is hay.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    The pipe so lily-like and weak,
    Does thus thy mortal state bespeak.
    Thou art ev’n such,
    Gone with a touch.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    And when the smoke ascends on high,
    Then thou behold’st the vanity
    Of worldly stuff,
    Gone with a puff.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    And when the pipe grows foul within,
    Think on thy soul defil’d with sin;
    For then the fire,
    It does require.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    And seest the ashes cast away;
    Then to thyself thou mayest say
    That to the dust
    Return thou must.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    PART II.

    Was this small plant for thee cut down?
    So was the plant of great renown;
    Which mercy sends
    For nobler ends.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    Doth juice medicinal proceed
    From such a naughty foreign weed?
    Then what’s the pow’r
    Of Jesse’s flow’r?
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    The promise, like the pipe, inlays,
    And by the mouth of faith conveys
    What virtue flows
    From Sharon’s rose.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    In vain th’ unlighted pipe you blow;
    Your pains in inward means are so,
    ‘Till heav’nly fire
    Thy heart inspire.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.

    The smoke, like burning incense tow’rs
    So should a praying heart of yours,
    With ardent cries,
    Surmount the skies.
    Thus think, and smoke tobacco.


  14. I love Calvinists. I’m not one but I love how dog gone smart you all are and I love listening to really smart Calvinists. But when I remember that John Piper is a Calvinist I want run away because he is really weird and kind of gives me the creeps. It’s so funny to me when he starts talking about Christianity being masculine because honestly Piper to me acts just like a woman.


  15. Robin, let’s be nice. He’s been a kind grandfather figure since he was 35. Kind grandfathers don’t do any harm. Well, as long as they don’t make the grandkids listen to their poetry.


  16. Brian, good catch on worship/church/means of grace being notably absent. I didn’t really notice because I had no expectation of them being there. I expected to be subjected to a visually rich, emotional infotainment/marketing presentation. And that’s what I got. If this thing is the sole fruit of Piper’s year-long sabbatical in an east Tennessee mountainside cabin…not impressed.


  17. We could riff on this poem for months.

    The Old Lifer

    See him in the bar
    (came by bike, not car)
    Ordering a stout
    Liberty he touts

    In the session meeting
    See him take a beating
    Pietists and fundies
    Try to ruin his Sundays

    Forgive me.


  18. Chorts –

    And if you go to clappy church
    Your worthless name we shall besmirch

    See, this stuff’s not so hard. Now you try “worship” and “war ship.”


  19. Erik again brings the cat’s meow, while Chorts sings;

    And yet nothin’ in the OLTS poetry about felines? Methinks, no ding dings.


  20. Interesting link, Dave.

    Certainly one hopes that big names like Piper are moving people toward Calvinism and its proper churchly expression. Unfortunately my personal observation is that folks who are attracted to the big names are more likely to be attracted to another big name than they are to deepen in the faith under a solid local pastor.

    Just another bout between hope and Calvinist realism.


  21. Re: the Deyoung/Piper article — someone has to provide the ballast of realism. And that someone is Old Calvinism. How many of us grew up fundie and heard similar sentiments about “winning America for X”, glorious mission field advances/opportunities, etc. The movement is about 12 minutes old and mostly baptist. Get back to me.


  22. The DeYoung article states:
    We had our Sola 13 conference over the weekend. To my great surprise, we had almost 3,000 people in attendance, two-thirds of whom were younger than me. Think about that. Here in Lansing, Michigan–the 109th largest MSA in the country–we have thousands of people gather, mostly young people, to hear 7 hour-long sermons on the solas of the Reformation.

    Well, attendance at conferences, rallies and the like is not a reliable gauge of spiritual vitality and solidity. Woodstock didn’t usher in an era of peace and love and I’m not so sure conferences are ushering in a Calvinist Revival. (I hate putting those two words together)

    Tell me what’s happening in churches, Mr. DeYoung.


  23. “Certainly one hopes that big names like Piper are moving people toward Calvinism and its proper churchly expression. ”

    That’s how I got on the off-ramp to the Reformed Superhighway 5 years ago.

    And some of us didn’t stop on the side of the off-ramp and went on to a solid faith with a NAPARC membership in one of the smaller denoms.

    Those still having a nap on the sholder of the off-ramp need patience, we were once one of them…


  24. CS: how many of us grew up fundie and heard similar sentiments about “winning America for X”, glorious mission field advances/opportunities, etc.

    Yup, it is hard for me to attack the primitive means of preachings towards which I came to faith.

    Moving on to better things to meet one’s gifts and temperament and IQ is a part of the pilgrimage.


  25. Kent, can you elaborate? If I watched Jim Bakker and Pat Robertson around the time I first became spiritually interested, should I be an advocate for their ministries? If 5 % of Finney’s converts seemed genuine, should we chill out on his Pelagianism? I think we can critically discuss ministries without impugning everything and every one that comes out of them.


  26. mm: one can hear and believe the Gospel preached through the worst of cheap shot motives (Phil 1:15-18) and live a life that produces good fruit. Any mention of the name of Jesus Christ in a way that is reverent is a gift, no matter how repugnant it is to those of us who know they have the only true faith and attend the only true church at present (pending…)

    My path has allowed me to find the right thing for me at the right time, and I move on (I have to believe that a lot of it as progress) and readily ditch things that I once thought were exhaustive truth. My donations shift along with my current views. I currently have problems with the Reformed faith and my denomination’s handling of spiritual issues, maybe I will move on some day.

    People are often trapped in their environment and their gifts/temperament/IQ and sometimes have to take whatever they can glean to assist their faith. Many of us will one day be feeble of mind and body and a Bakker ministry is the only thing out there for us. Finney/Bakker/The Message is all that some people can barely absorb in the prime of their life.

    It hurts me the most for people in my life who could do better but can’t be bothered. Encouragement and prayer are my only means of helping them.


  27. What do they say, CW, “if you’re not religiously broad-minded at at 20 you have no heart, but if you’re broadminded at 50 you have no brain?” Oh, they don’t say that?

    I just figure Canadians can’t not be forbearing, so I overlook that fault.


  28. While there are some that graduate from Piper et al to Reformed confessionalism, I have observed far more that simply tack on a few Reformed bits and now think that all is good between them and their confession (if they have one).

    One guy that comes to mind is a MacArthur fan who doesn’t like confessions, but wants to call himself Reformed (despite being a Baptist) and accept parts of the WCF as something like a statement of faith.

    Similarly, at WSC the Piper / TKNY crowd (is there much of a difference?) tended to sprinkle on a little this and a little that from the WCF or the 3 Forms and suddenly they became the Reformation’s gold standard.

    The Old Life students (read confessionally Reformed) were (increasingly) in the minority. Being confessional just ain’t popular.


  29. MH, to climb the Reformed ladder you have to read and read and read and read some more.

    And each step provides names and works that will help you on your next step.

    If you don’t like to read a lot, you will stay at the level you described.


  30. @ Kent, yes, but if those who were at Westminster West w/ me and read the same books I did and still clung to Piper, DeYoung, Keller, etc, then it is not just a matter of reading.

    IMHO, the difference between the confessional seminary students and the not-so-confessional seminary students came down to conviction that the confessional standards were adequate and an uncompromising commitment to hold one’s self to the confessional limits. The issue was not so much knowledge (despite the fact that we were smarter than them) — we wanted to be confessional and to become more confessional, they did not want that and in some cases opposed it.

    We are talking about seminary students with M Div.’s from (IMHO) the best Reformed seminary who are not passionate about Word and Sacrament, who don’t really care about the RPW, and etc.

    Yes, being a Piperite or a MacArtherite or a Kellerite or a DeYoungian can be the result of a lack of serious study. But it can also tell you something about that person’s commitments and convictions — especially when that person is well read and well informed.


  31. Kent, I reject the idea that the “Reformed ladder” is just for the heavily read and studious. I know plenty of simple, busy, or otherwise not geeky or intellectual souls that benefit greatly from Reformed doctrine and practice…and who I would consider truly Reformed. This is why proper worship is so important — it communicates the doctrine. To quote Terry Johnson, it takes a Reformed bucket to carry Reformed doctrine. The right bucket (worship/liturgy/order) will make Reformed believers capable of benefiting from and communicating to others the riches of the tradition.


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