Are the New Calvinists Green or On Fire?

Tim Challies engages in a bit of introspection after the most recent kerfuffle surrounding Mark Driscoll. Challies concedes that a problem for the young sovereigntists was their lack of maturity. They were not mature or settled:

Bear with me as I artificially divide Driscoll’s ministry into three parts: theology (what he said), practice (how he said it) and results (what happened). So many of us had genuine concerns over the second part, but were willing to excuse or downplay them on the basis of the first and third. Yes, he was crude and yes, he sometimes said or did outrageous things, but he never wavered in publicly proclaiming the gospel and both his church and his church-planting movement continued to grow. We were confused. We did not have a clear category for this. We had concerns, but the Lord seemed to be using him. So we recommended his podcasts, or bought his books, even if we had to provide a small caveat each time.

In retrospect, I see this as a mark of immaturity in the New Calvinism, in what in that day was called the Young, Restless, Reformed. It was the young and the restless that allowed us to be so easily impressed. To large degree, we propelled Driscoll to fame through our admiration—even if it was hesitant admiration.

But Challies contradicts this very conclusion when he throws — unintentionally — the old young sovereigntists under the bus with the immature. First John Piper shows some lack of years:

In 2006 Driscoll was more formally introduced to the New Calvinism with his inclusion in the Desiring God National Conference and even then he was a controversial figure. When Piper invited him again in 2008 he recorded a short video to explain why he had extended the invitation. These words stand out: “I love Mark Driscoll’s theology.” While Piper did not deny the concerns, he loved Driscoll’s theology and loved what the Lord was doing through him.

Then D. A. Carson also shows the weakness of youth (from an earlier post):

Last weekend I had the privilege of spending a fair bit of time with D.A. Carson and he said something about Driscoll that I found interesting and meaningful. Because he has said this to others, I don’t think I’m violating any kind of trust in mentioning it. There is no doubt that people have had difficulty knowing what to do with Driscoll and knowing how to think about him. But Carson said he finds it helpful to look not just at where Driscoll is, but at the trajectory he is on. I took that to mean that if we look at where he has come from and then plot a course by where he is now, we’ll see that he is growing and maturing as a Christian and that he is continually emphasizing better and more biblical theology. We are all works in progress. This is not to say that we should hope that Mark Driscoll grows up to become John MacArthur or R.C. Sproul. Rather, it simply means that it is sometimes wise to look at the wider picture.

When we look to that wider picture we see that Driscoll clearly believes in and teaches the gospel.

So perhaps the problem is not age or maturity. Could it be that Challies continues to share with Driscoll an understanding of the church and the Christian ministry that provides room for the sorts of celebrity, technology, mass crowds, and enthusiasm upon which the young sovereigntists thrive?

After all, the young sovereigntists have not found the Old Calvinists very attractive. The charge of mean or argumentative has been a fairly read one to discount the kind of Reformed Christianity from which folks like Challies and the Gospel Allies want to create some distance. This is why it is curious now to learn that the young and old sovereigntists were willing to overlook Driscoll’s failings for the sake of his theology.

Well, if you could do that for Acts 29, why not for the OPC or the URC or the PCA in its non-TKNY iterations? What’s so bad about the theology of the Reformed churches? What’s wrong with baptizing infants and ministering within the bounds of an ecclesiastical assembly? What’s wrong with singing Psalms? What’s wrong with seeing hedonism and spirituality as antithetical? Nothing that would have raised real questions about Driscoll or C. J. Mahoney or James Macdonald a long time ago.

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31 thoughts on “Are the New Calvinists Green or On Fire?

  1. Bullseye. “We had concerns, but the Lord seemed to be using him.” — I’ll bet a lot of people had that to say about C.G. Finney as well. You probably can’t find anyone in the The Gospel-Industrial Complex this week who won’t now claim to have had all sorts of concerns, but maybe they were not previously shared with the paeans — just the elites. Maybe Challies will change his website subtitle from “Informing the Reforming” to “Having Reasonable Concerns But Not Always Sharing Them With You.”

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  2. Seriously…his trajectory towards maturity? I look forward to trying that one on my wife the next time I really step in it. Discernment apparently is not the strong suit of the New Calvinists.

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  3. Regarding the last paragraph, it’s easy for believers and churches to have a sinful pride in what they are not, as opposed to being clear about who they are. There is a stubborn resistance to any beliefs or practices that may come off as boring, uncool, or repulsive – and therefore, a refusal to be enlightened by Scripture where it confronts their value system. And out of that pride comes a smug view that this tiny minority of odd people must therefore be wrong.

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  4. >>The charge of mean or argumentative has been a fairly read one to discount the kind of Reformed Christianity from which folks like Challies and the Gospel Allies want to create some distance.

    Piper: So the intellectual appeal of the system of Calvinism draws a certain kind of intellectual person, and that type of person doesn’t tend to be the most warm, fuzzy, and tender. Therefore this type of person has a greater danger of being hostile, gruff, abrupt, insensitive, or intellectualistic.

    Impossible!

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  5. The new Calvinists do not have a monopoly on their kind of problems exhibited along with the lack of timely, proper responses is not new to the world either. The former is the result of rigidity commonly found in new approaches while the latter is the result of tribalism which we are all prone to. Who knows how things will be in 10 years when time gives those involved a chance to mature a little more?

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  6. Darryl noted:

    “Well, if you could do that for Acts 29, why not for the OPC or the URC or the PCA in its non-TKNY iterations? What’s so bad about the theology of the Reformed churches? What’s wrong with baptizing infants and ministering within the bounds of an ecclesiastical assembly? What’s wrong with singing Psalms? What’s wrong with seeing hedonism and spirituality as antithetical? Nothing that would have raised real questions about Driscoll or C. J. Mahoney or James Macdonald a long time ago.”

    Bravo!

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  7. Is it wrong to gloat? I mean, Driscoll’s not a Christian so it’s not as if I’m gloating over a brother’s misery.

    I think, Dr. Hart, you actually pulled your punches on this one. This has just exploded the whole Young Calvinist movement and exposed it for the total sham it is. Challies still can’t bring himself to say: I was wrong; I was seduced by his fame; he was cool. Never mind that there was absolutely no substance and no Spirit.

    Driscoll and his cult are just another bunch of wack jobs. Piper has disgraced himself; Carson is disgracing himself. And the point is: he never will become a John MacArthur because John MacArthur is a Christian and he was willing to call Driscoll out.

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  8. We did not have a clear category for this.

    Really? How about Moses’ second occassion of striking the rock?

    And that’s making the assumption God was working through Driscoll at times, as opposed to the assumption that Driscoll ever demonstrated Mosaic levels of faithfulness.

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  9. “We had concerns, but the Lord seemed to be using him.”

    “And that’s making the assumption God was working through Driscoll at times…”

    I’m not so sure about that. The assumption that God is using someone is not really all that high of a bar. God used the Babylonians after all. Perhaps more relevant to this situation is Paul’s faint praise in Philippians 1:

    15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

    Christ was preached and that’s a good thing, but Driscoll’s church was not a legitimate church in my estimation. These guys fall into the same error over and over that the gospel is the whole of theology. It is really, really important – the most important thing of all perhaps. But it isn’t everything. After the gospel is preached, the sacraments need to be administered, discipline needs to be addressed… in other words the church has to be built. Theology doesn’t start and finish with TULIP. I guess I’m preaching to the choir here, but it is frustrating to me that Reformed pastors such as Keller (who have taken vows to uphold the standards in the WCF – including the bits about baptism, ecclesiology, etc…) form para-church ministries with Christians who refuse to submit to a biblical form of church government. I’m not saying cult of personality can never afflict a reformed church, but not even DeYoung, Sproul, Keller, or Ferguson (to name a few pretty popular reformed pastors in the US) could get away with the shenanigans tied to some of these independent “reformed” preachers they ally with. The baptistic members of the TGC should be called to repent for building their unbiblical cults of personality and called to join a reformed church if they want to be part of a reformed coalition. The reformed enablers should also be called to repent and sever any ecclesiastical ties outside of their denomination – they should answer to the communion they pledged fidelity to.

    Frankly, their commitment to para-church organizations leaves me wondering if they really believe all that stuff they vowed to believe in our confessions. If they don’t, that is fine. I’m a pretty ecumenical guy, but I also believe in honesty and good fences. I think these other non-reformed movements are deficient in important ways, but maybe I’m wrong. If the Gospel is being preached that’s still a good thing, but don’t pretend to be reformed and hollow out my denomination with your shenanigans. OK, enough ranting…

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  10. Just to clarify, my assumption was to justify the parallel to abundant water from the rock despite its mishandling, not the smallest affirmation of Driscoll

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  11. I am still waiting for the not-yet response to the “not yet aspect of justification” as taught by the old and rested Reformed. Or was the OPC report on justification supposed to have been that? If the neonomian half has its concerns about the antinomians, and if the republicationist half has its concerns about the claim that the law-gospel antithesis disappears after you are a Christian, well that must mean everyone is pretty much on the middle (balanced) path?

    One “trajectory” is a slippery slope that leads from John Murray to Norman Shepherd to Richard Gaffin to Rick P and Bill Evans. But should I assume your “trajectory” began at pretty much the same place where I once started and that one day you will catch up with me?

    And sometimes those who follow in the path get past the leader, as when the Westminster Confession was revised against the magistrate enforcing the first table of the Mosaic covenant….

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  12. September 11, 2009— This would apparently explain why the bloggers at TGC have yet to mention the two six hundred pound gorillas in the TGC parlor — C. J. Mahaney and Mark Driscoll. The former has at the very least created a ruckus about the kind of pastoral leadership within SGM circles, which would seem to undermine TGC’s commitment to promoting gospel-centered churches. And then there is Dricoll’s clairvoyance which in sixteenth-century Geneva would have gotten him drowned.

    dgh— I understand that these situations are delicate and that friends want to stand by friends. But to call Calvinists — yet again — angry when TGC has its own image problems is well nigh remarkable unless, that is, you remember the importance of feelings, affections, passions, and hedonism. A co-ally may not be able to spot Mahaney’s or Driscoll’s errors but can FEEL their pain

    https://oldlife.org/2011/09/the-problem-of-sappy-evangelicals/

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  13. I wonder why there is more concern about the young and restless on water than there is with the young and restless for teaching an universal atonement. Could it be that an universal (but conditional) atonement is implied when certain undefined “promises” are given to all who are watered and given public absolution by clergy? How could we know that Christ died for all those in “the covenant of grace”, if indeed that covenant includes those who are not yet justified?

    Mark Driscoll’s book Death by Love, taught the very common false gospel that the application of what took place at the cross depends on the sinner. Driscoll never had the Confessional idea of an atonement in which the application of the atonement is justly secured by the atonement.

    To the question of why can’t God simply forgive sins without the death of Jesus Christ for those sins, Driscoll answered (with some Arminians) that somebody has to pay for sin for God to be God and to be just. But then Driscoll undermined the justice of God by writing again and again that Jesus died for all sinners and paid for all their sins.

    Certainly the elect are under the wrath of God until the time when the righteousness of the cross is imputed and applied to them by God. But Driscoll continually taught that many for whom Jesus died will one day perish by God’s wrath

    Driscoll plainly denied the truth of Romans 8:32, that God will freely give all things along with Jesus to all those for whom He gave His Son.

    So his message was not about what God had done, but only a message about what God will do if you do something. On p 193, Driscoll writes, “it all comes down to you and Jesus”. But in fact Driscoll’s theology comes down to only you, the sinner.

    Jesus according to Driscoll has paid the ransoml for every sinner, and desires that every sinner be saved. So for Driscoll it never did come down to Jesus.

    Water or not water, when salvation comes down to the sinner, we are in a bad place, with no hope at all.

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  14. The problem isn’t your “hesitant” support, Tim. The problem is that hesitant support translated to “this guy is someone to imitate” to thousands of millennials like myself who were duped by it.

    I was fortunate to leave it after only a few years. I received the following text from a former-A29, ex-YRR friend last night:

    “We expereienced that scenario first hand. Extreme head of the home teaching and rebuike. The issues in A29 are systemic, not unique to MD or [Mars Hill Church]. Little meaningful accountability to protect the people from ecclesiastical tyrants. That’s what happens when you write your church’s creed. You’re the only one who doesn’t take any exceptions. That puts not only your people, but your elders in a terrible position.”

    Jokes on us, I guess.

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  15. And he wasn’t talking about Mars Hill or Driscoll when he wrote it, but another A29 church.

    In the words of Al Borland: “I don’t think so, Tim.”

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  16. “Certainly the elect are under the wrath of God until the time when the righteousness of the cross is imputed and applied to them by God. But Driscoll continually taught that many for whom Jesus died will one day perish by God’s wrath

    Driscoll plainly denied the truth of Romans 8:32, that God will freely give all things along with Jesus to all those for whom He gave His Son.

    So his message was not about what God had done, but only a message about what God will do if you do something. On p 193, Driscoll writes, “it all comes down to you and Jesus”. But in fact Driscoll’s theology comes down to only you, the sinner.

    Jesus according to Driscoll has paid the ransoml for every sinner, and desires that every sinner be saved. So for Driscoll it never did come down to Jesus.”

    Man’s gotta have his Freewilly. He must be the final decider. Theoretically, nobody could be saved if man didn’t allow God to save. (And why is Driscoll considered Reformed?)

    But hey, Mars has a loud rock band, candles and they give out free ESVs.

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  17. D4- Yes, maybe the Lord’s work was in recent events, exposing this monster for what he is and, hopefully, bringing his empire tumbling down. Maybe it was another’s work in building him up…

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  18. Getting duped by a groovy dude posing as a preacher is a big part of growing up.

    It didn’t kill you, it made you stronger.

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  19. “Kent: Getting duped by a groovy dude posing as a preacher is a big part of growing up.

    It didn’t kill you, it made you stronger.”

    Amen. And I’ve got the well-worn copy of WCF to prove it.

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  20. I have thoroughly agree with the critiques here and elsewhere over the years about Driscoll. I left a church in 2009, because the young assistant pastor they brought in idolized Driscoll and was incorporating MD’s personal style and ecclessiology into our church. It was so disturbing and troubling, we had a bit of an exodus that year, which we of a traditionally reformed mindset could not bear to embrace. Our voices were squelched and we were labeled trouble makers. Moving on was the best thing we did. Now, that church is fumbling and fidgeting to try to re-form itself, which many of the remaining laity finally seeing what we saw in advance.

    Yes, immaturity and lack of discernment were the chief factors in that church. However, I think the “keep the peace at any cost” mentality as well as the polarizing, dug-in positions/tribalism prevented deep, meaningful conversations. To challenge or question was seen as virtually treasonous. Even though the church was Presbyterian, they downplayed the role of eldership and session-leadership. Rather, the “Senior Pastor” and his right-hand “Assistant” pretty much told the session what to do and how to vote as well as telling them what their vision and mission was (rather than deferring to BOC). With all of that background, the immaturity and lack of discernment prevalant in the laity only fueled the awful already burning fire of poor ecclesiology.

    So, yes. I agree very much with this post. Thanks!

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  21. Mark,
    If the YRRs do in fact teaching or putting forth a doctrine of “universal atonement”, I very much share your concern here. Do you know who or where this teaching is occuring? I want to be sure to steer clear.

    I also wonder whether there isn’t a bit of hyper-Calvinism creeping into the set who are identifying themselves as “old schoolers”? I consider myself to be of an old school reformed bent, but I’m more concerned about what I see to be a more prevalent misunderstanding of the doctrine of limited atonement. In their zeal to defend the doctrine of limited atonement, I’ve seen many err to other degree, by denying the proclamation of the Canons of Dort, opposing the teachings of WCF Ch. 3, I and VII, refuting the universal offer of the gospel, and/or minimizing moral responsibility. Just food for thought. Thanks,

    ref:
    http://www.spurgeon.org/~phil/articles/hypercal.htm
    http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_III.html

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  22. Jay, the church was Presbyterian? Even I don’t drink until after breakfast. But anyway, do tell more. Where are the MH refugees going?

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  23. Muddy, I have no idea where the MH refugees are going or have gone.Aren’t they in Seattle?

    I do know that the Presbyterian exodus from my old church went to more traditional PCA churches, mostly and then the one OPC that was a bit further away.

    Maybe the old-liners can get out to Seattle and help minister to people fleeing MH?

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  24. All the MD/MH refugees I’ve read are always about What The Lord Is Showing Me, and if brevity is the soul of wit they got no soul. Not sure I said that right. Anyway, they mostly seem to think God is always whispering in their ears and maybe they figured God whispered in MD’s ears the most. Not sure how the adult films he saw in his head jive with all that.

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  25. Snoeberger—The answer, I would suggest, is faithful ministry in confessionally bounded churches committed more to the spirituality of the church than they are to the socio-political and cultural relevancy of the church.

    mcmark—Since the church always support the state (whatever the state happens to be, who cares what the nation is), the state can always support religion (whatever it happens to be, who cares what it is—Eisenhower)

    Snoeberger–By striving, self-consciously, to be as culturally transcendent as possible, I would argue, we can cultivate timeless, transgenerational bodies that do not need to reinvent themselves every quarter century to remain solvent. It will not be easy

    mcmark—Not all fundamentalists are dispensationalists, but if one kingdom is about what happens on earth to Israel and its servant the USA, and if the other kingdom is about the children of Christians who do not opt out of the new covenant and thus show their election to heaven, wouldn’t the greatest possible “cultural transcendence” be for the church to keep quiet and not think about what happens on earth?

    And if the church is preaching and sacrament by clergy who have objectively signed the confessions, but without the subjectivity of discipline, what could the church possibly have to say if private individuals don’t care and don’t think about what will happen on earth?

    http://www.dbts.edu/2014/08/22/cultural-fundamentalism-or-cultural-evangelicalism/

    Matthew 16: 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose their life , but whoever loses the life because of Me will find their life . 26 What will it benefit if they GAIN the whole world yet LOSE their life? Or what will they give in exchange for their life?

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  26. Mark Snoeberger–p 167—“Almost all participants in this debate agree that the gospel should be preached to all. The only exception may be some like David Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinsim and the Call of the Gospel.”

    https://www.bhacademicblog.com/the-extent-of-the-atonement-of-jesus-christ-correspondence-verses-coherence/

    1. Engelsma clearly affirms the preaching of the gospel to all. Engelsma makes a distinction between saying that God desires the salvation of all the non-elect and preaching the “external call” of the gospel to all sinners.

    2. At question here is not the question of restricting preaching. The question is about what the gospel is. The gospel is not about a Savour who does not save, and yet the “multiple intentions” (two wills) view praises itself for saying that Christ is the Savour of all sinners, but then denies that Christ purchased faith for all for whom Christ died.

    3. The “let’s make a deal” gospel of fundamentalists is not different from the new offer from “evangelicals”. Neither the old nor its reinvention say anything about the justice of Christ’s death having obtained permanent redemption for the elect . The coalition gospel does not talk about the justice of God having already imputed only the sins of the elect to Christ.

    4. Romans 8:32 teaches that God will give all other blessings along with Christ to all who God loves. Does it make God look better to say that God “provided” something which is “offered” never applied? Does it do anything good and gracious for the sinner to tell the sinner that the application depends not on Christ’s death but on the Holy Spirit’s “separate” intention now?

    5. The “multiple intentions” (two wills) view continually describes the application as “subjective application” or (even worse ) “appropriation”. But this ignores the reality of God’s imputations. God not only imputed the sins of all the elect to Christ, but in time God also imputes the death of Christ to all for whom Christ died to make propitiation.. This legal placing in time into Christ’s death is .NOT “subjective application” but God’s imputation of the (objective) value of Christ’s death to the elect sinner. This distinction is well described in Owen’s Death of Death, but that discussion was only for that little interim back there where some people talked about the five points. Being Reformed is so much more than that (and less…)

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