Mark Driscoll is to Ray Rice . . .

what Tim Keller is to Roger Goodell.

At least that’s how TKNY’s quotation in the New York Times story about Driscoll occurred to me:

A front-page story in The New York Times on August 23 had suggested that Driscoll’s empire was “imploding.”

“He was really important—in the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” Timothy Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, told the Times. “But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships—which he himself has confessed repeatedly—was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”

So like the NFL with Ray Rice, the gospel allies knew about Driscoll’s antics well before his pseudonymous comments went public. I know I have blogged about this before, but where was Kathy Keller with her b-s detector on this one? Why didn’t the most gospelly guys in the room warn the rest of the Christian world about Driscoll’s problems?

Maybe they need to take a page out of their savior’s playbook and call people (especially religious leaders) “fool” or “hypocrite” once in a while. If they want to start with me, their move.

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Do Driscoll's Enablers Need to Take Some Blame?

Of course, this post has the potential to sound like I told you so. I didn’t, actually. I never saw the appeal of Driscoll partly because celebrity pastors have never appeared to be serious. If you grow up with Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell on the airwaves, maybe you build up immunity. So I have not read or heard Driscoll. And I never issued warnings about his teachings (except for taking issue with the larger phenomenon of the hip church and pastor). Once news came out about his clairvoyance or plagiarism or off-color remarks (whether under pseudonym or not), it looked like Driscoll was mainly hype.

For that reason, his recent difficulties make nary a ripple among Old Calvinists.

What is intriguing is to see the way that Driscoll’s allies seem to be unwilling to own up to their own errors in judgment. Paul Tripp, for instance, wrote a letter of resignation to the Mars Hill board:

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ. I love the church of Jesus Christ. I love pastors. I love working with churches to help them form a leadership culture that is shaped by the same grace that is at the center of the message that they preach.

It’s because of this love that I accepted the position on Mars Hill Church’s BoAA. But it became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn’t a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church.

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs.

Is it really a problem of distance? What did it take not to see even from Philadelphia that Driscoll was an accident not waiting to happen but already an accident? I don’t write this necessarily to congratulate myself (only Jonathan Edwards’ powers of introspection can tell for sure). But why did folks like Tripp give Driscoll such a long leash for so long?

The same goes for someone equally geographically challenged:

Driscoll is a great communicator. He studied stand-up comedians in order to learn how to communicate to the modern generation and he succeeded. His performance is slick, passionate and entertaining. And he does communicate the Bible – it is not just the typical tele-evangelist styles of a few homespun stories, mixed in with some Bible verses and a bit of prophetic/pathetic shouting. I know many people who have been helped through his teaching of God’s Word – and I include myself in that number. For several years I subscribed to his podcast, although for the past three I have stopped listening, maybe because I felt I knew more about his family and church than I did my own! It also gets tiring to listen to someone who takes an hour and 15 minutes to say what could be said in 15. And what’s with the schoolboy obsession with sex? Anyone who preaches three lengthy series on the Song of Solomon as a sex manual for Christians has got things a wee bit out of sync! Most of us grow out of ‘the shock jock’ tactic of ‘Look how freely I can speak about sex’. Those of my female friends who complained about his misogyny were not being too ‘sensitive’ – they were right. I say that as someone who shares Driscoll’s complementarian theology but not his mistaken cultural application of that theology.

Driscoll was desperate to be an author. But he just isn’t. He can preach, inspire and motivate, but he is not a writer. He told me that a US Christian publishing company had offered him a seven-figure sum to have a series of books ghost-written in his name. He resisted that temptation then, although sadly he seems to have succumbed to something similar later. If what he told me about the Christian publishing company was true, then we need to repent at setting up a system that just apes the world – complete with our own charts, publicity machines and commercialised insanity.

Could Driscoll actually preach? Could Billy Sunday? Or was his appeal partly that of a performer, especially one who grew up like his audience listening to shock jocks?

The ordinary means of grace are truly ordinary and sometimes come administered by men who are not telegenic or charismatic or great orators. But that’s not the point. If they actually preach the word and keep themselves out of the way of Scripture, they do far more good than fellows like Driscoll even on his good days. As Calvin wrote:

God might have acted, in this respect, by himself, without any aid or instrument, or might even have done it by angels; but there are several reasons why he rather chooses to employ men. First, in this way he declares his condescension towards us, employing men to perform the function of his ambassadors in the world, to be the interpreters of his secret will; in short, to represent his own person. Thus he shows by experience that it is not to no purpose he calls us his temples, since by man’s mouth he gives responses to men as from a sanctuary. Secondly, it forms a most excellent and useful training to humility, when he accustoms us to obey his word though preached by men like ourselves, or, it may be, our inferiors in worth. Did he himself speak from heaven, it were no wonder if his sacred oracles were received by all ears and minds reverently and without delay. For who would not dread his present power? who would not fall prostrate at the first view of his great majesty? who would not be overpowered by that immeasurable splendour? But when a feeble man, sprung from the dust, speaks in the name of God, we give the best proof of our piety and obedience, by listening with docility to his servant, though not in any respect our superior. Accordingly, he hides the treasure of his heavenly wisdom in frail earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7), that he may have a more certain proof of the estimation in which it is held by us.

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.

What's Wrong with Calvinism?

If you can attribute American patriotism or the Tea Party to Calvinism, you have a term that is almost as much of a wax nose as evangelicalism. This is why the phrase Reformed Protestant is better than Calvinism. Reformed Protestant has a definite meaning that Calvinism doesn’t.

And this is why the so-called New Calvinism thrives (at least in its own promoters’ minds). Take for instance the question of diversity, a factor that lets New Calvinists think they are the mainstream. Here is Matthew Barrett on John Piper:

Some today are surprised by the wide diversity within New Calvinism, including everyone from Lecrae to the Gettys, or R. C. Sproul to Francis Chan. Piper points out that this diversity among Reformed-minded folks has always been present. All one has to do is look back at the long list of Calvinists in church history. Piper suggests comparing Augustine and Adoniram Judson, Francis Turretin and John Bunyan, John Calvin and Chapiper-writingrles Spurgeon, John Knox and J. I. Packer, Cotton Mather and R. C. Sproul, Abraham Kuyper and William Carey, Haynes and Dabney, Theodore Beza and James Boice, Isaac Backus and Martin Lloyd-Jones, etc. “If there is such a diversity in the Old,” Piper argues, “then we really cannot find dividing lines between the Old and the New.”

He goes on to say, “The Old is too diverse and the connections between Old and New too organic to claim things that are new in the New that were not present in any aspects in the Old.” The New is too assorted to claim any “downgrade” or “upgrade” from the Old. History is too complex for “broad brush commendations of one over the other or condemnations of one under the other.” Hence, any “given issue that you try to address you can find periods and persons and movements among the Old that would outshine the New.” Piper concludes, “There is no claim, therefore, in my assessment that the New is better.” From here Piper goes on to give 12 features that define the New Calvinism.

I wonder what Piper or Barrett would say about New Calvinism’s diversity being the product (as Nate commented) of waffling, for instance, on baptism and charismatic gifts, the way that Old Calvinism doesn’t. In other words, diversity is a sign of failure, not an indication of strength.

Plus, if you define Calvinism by the creeds and confessions of the Reformed churches, which is how Calvinism started, you find remarkable coherence. Spurgeon, Judson, and Piper are out. Knox, Kuyper, and Dabney are in.

And this is what Old Calvinists find so alarming about the New Calvinists. They can understand themselves entirely as a categorical abstraction (Piper’s 12 points) without relationship to word, sacrament, or discipline — the marks of the church (as in, Reformed according to the word). In fact, aside from the implicit hubris in the New Calvinists’ understanding of the past, do these guys, as Tim Challies apparently believes, think they are in the mainstream? Can you really be in the mainstream when instead of church you chart your existence by conferences and organizations like Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, and Sovereign Grace? Have I got a book for Tim.

My understanding of earth sciences is spotty, but new bodies of water generally do not become the mainstream within three decades unless you do some serious dirt moving (and that didn’t even spare New Orleans). But cheerleaders always think their team is number one, even when they are losing.

What if Mark Dever were Ted Cruz?

Sure, like Roger Olson, I would have liked to have received better treatment in the recent Times story on the so-called “new” Calvinism. (For the record, Olson was quoted and I was not, but Olson still complains.)

But in addition to observing which figures — Piper, Keller, and Driscoll — are responsible for a phenomenon that is hardly new, also noteworthy is the way the national press covers religion. You either have the religion-is-bigoted meme which haunted Phil Robertson’s employers, or you have the Gee-Golly approach of religion is nice, inspirational, and alive. Why this particularly comes to mind is that the reporter who wrote this story, Mark Oppenheimer, came out with it (not on his own — his editors are also implicated) just after a dustup over one of new Calvinism’s celebrities’ damaging admissions of plagiarism. Granted, Driscoll is not at the center of this story. But Oppenheimer does mention him and chose not to look into the less reputable parts of new Calvinism (which might include the modernist-like agreement among the Gospel Allies not to talk about a central feature of the Great Commission — how to baptize and what it means). Oppenheimer’s piece, in effect, vindicates Carl Trueman’s observation that the Driscoll imbroglio would settle and the gospel business would go back to business as usual.

On the plus side, the story did vindicate those Presbyterians who opposed modernism when it looked for critical comments (again, not from all about me) from Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary:

While many neo-Calvinists shy away from politics, they generally take conservative positions on Scripture and on social issues. Many don’t believe that women should be ministers or elders. But Serene Jones, the president of Union Theological Seminary, said that Calvin’s influence was not limited to conservatives.

Liberal Christians, including some Congregationalists and liberal Presbyterians, may just take up other aspects of Calvin’s teachings, Dr. Jones said. She mentioned Calvin’s belief that “civic engagement is the main form of obedience to God.” She added that, unlike many of today’s conservatives, “Calvin did not read Scripture literally.” Often Calvin “is misquoting it, and he makes up Scripture passages that don’t exist.”

Calvin makes up Scripture passages? Wow! I thought that was Harry Emerson Fosdick’s job. But it is good to see where liberal Protestants and neo-Calvinists (the real ones) agree — not the making up Scripture bit but the civic engagement is central rendering of Calvinism.

Tribalists All

While six middle-aged men continue to receive their comeuppance for challenging the soundness of rap and hip-hop, the imbroglio over whether Mark Driscoll plagiarized Peter Jones continues. (I don’t know why people are not debating whether Driscoll should even be writing books.) Miles Mullin writes a gloomy assessment of evangelicalism thanks to the structural problems that the Driscoll affair reveals:

Because of the personality-driven leadership inherent in contemporary evangelicalism, the tribalism it nurtures, and the reality that most of American evangelicalism subsists in some variation of the free church tradition, the final outcome of this story is clear. There is no authority that can adjudicate this matter other than the authority upon which both Driscoll and Mefferd have built their ministries: evangelical popular opinion. . . . Thus, regardless of whether or not Mark Driscoll truly plagiarized in A Call to Resurgence(and other books) or whether Janet Mefferd lied about Driscoll hanging up, their tribes will defend them to the end.

This is the troubling reality of the personality-based leadership that encompasses much of American evangelicalism. Often, charisma and dynamic communication skills trump character and integrity as popular appeal wins the day. And for those of us who wish it were otherwise, there is no court of appeal with the authority to hear our case.

I am not sure about the distinction between charisma and dynamic communication on the one side and character and integrity on the other. In the world of mass media no one has the kind of personal knowledge that allows us to tell whether a figure has any more character and integrity than he does charisma and rhetorical skills. Someone who actually holds an office of authority could function as an umpire in such a dispute. And said office-holder would have authority no matter what his gifts or integrity (unless of course he broke the rules that pertained to his office). In other words, an ecclesiastical officer could decide this matter (as well as an officer of the court) if Driscoll were part of a church overseen by officers who assented to church authority.

Now I can see where some might think this takes me, right in the direction of Jason and the Callers’ boy-have-we-got-a-solution-for-you appeal to papal supremacy. And that is exactly where I’d like to go since it seems to (all about) me that without temporal authority the pope’s spiritual office has descended to the levels of charisma, rhetorical skills, integrity, and character. Before Vatican 2 the papacy could claim greater authority and generally commanded it. But since the 1950s with the greater prosperity of Roman Catholics in the U.S. and greater academic accomplishments by Roman Catholic scholars, even papal supremacy does not command the conformity that it once did when the people prayed, paid, and obeyed. For instance, the Vatican’s power to police Roman Catholic universities has arguably never been weaker (despite Ex Corde Ecclesiae).

Here is one recent story where Roman Catholic professors are appealing to Pope Francis’ off the cuff remarks to challenge their administrations:

Pope Francis surprised many last month following the publication of his first full-length interview, in which he offered a less doctrinaire stance on issues such as homosexuality and abortion than any of his predecessors.

“I am no one to judge,” he said in response a question about gay people, echoing previous comments he’d made to media on the topic this summer and signaling to some that the Vatican was becoming more moderate. Somewhat similarly, the pope said that the church has grown “obsessed” with doctrine — at the expense of larger spiritual matters.

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” he said. “I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that.”

But within days of the publication of the Vatican-approved interview, which appeared in the U.S. in the Jesuit magazine America, several American Roman Catholic institutions took a harder line on those exact issues.

The apparent disconnect led some faculty members at Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount Universities, which recently dropped coverage for elective abortions from their standard health insurance plans, and Providence College, which banned a gay marriage advocate from speaking on campus, to wonder whether their administrations had gotten the message.

Meanwhile, the theologians whom John Paul II tried to make more accountable through Ex Corde Ecclesiae are raising questions of their own:

An international group of prominent Catholic theologians have called the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality “incomprehensible” and are asking bishops around the world to take seriously the expertise of lay people in their preparations for a global meeting of the prelates at the Vatican next year.

Church teaching on issues like contraception and same-sex marriage, the theologians write, are based on “abstract notions of natural law and [are] outdated, or at the very least scientifically uninformed” and “are for the most part incomprehensible to the majority of the faithful.”

Addressing next year’s meeting of church leaders, known as a Synod of Bishops, they say that previous such meetings involved “only carefully hand-picked members of the laity.”

Those meetings, they write, “offered no critical voice and ignored abundant evidence that the teaching of the church on marriage and sexuality was not serving the needs of the faithful.”

Of course, an apologist could say that this changes nothing. The pope is still in charge. Which of course is true in a sense. But his being-in-chargedness is not exactly evident in large sectors of the church, any more than Protestants have some way to adjudicate the Driscoll affair. And if we recall how popular Francis is compared to Benedict XVI, the categories of charisma and character turn out to be as crucial for a pope’s clout in the modern church as it is for celebrity pastors among Protestants.

Which is just one way of saying that in the modern world where churches are “merely” spiritual institutions, without backup from the state — the real power in contemporary affairs, Roman Catholics and Protestants are both shooting blanks. (Eastern Orthodox may be different when you can have titles like this one — His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch.) And that may explain why so many popes, now regarded as being products of time and place, the ones who oversaw Inquisitions, abducted Jewish boys, and condemned all aspects of modern social life, had a point. If they were going to retain their power, it needed to be powerfully palpable and visible.

Who Said Calvinism Was Fair?

Great. Would be Calvinists get Mark Driscoll. Meanwhile, Lutherans get Nadia.

Nadia Bolz-Weber bounds into the University United Methodist Church sanctuary like a superhero from Planet Alternative Christian. Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans. . . .

In her body and her theology, Bolz-Weber represents a new, muscular form of liberal Christianity, one that merges the passion and life-changing fervor of evangelicalism with the commitment to inclusiveness and social justice of mainline Protestantism. She’s a tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right or too Jesus-y for the left.

Is the Roman Catholic equivalent Stephen Colbert? Or Garry Wills?

Defining Celebrity Down

While I was reading a story about Mark Driscoll’s congregation moving into a downtown-Seattle church, a former United Methodist property, I remembered an poignant segment from one of Terry Gross’ interviews with David Rakoff. For one period in his life, Rakoff was a small-time actor and he told Gross about an essay where he described his playing a small part on one of the soap operas produced in New York City. Rakoff self-deprecatingly explained that he was generally chosen to play one of two rolls, either Jewy McHebrew (the stereotypical Jew) or Fudgy McPacker (the stereotypical homosexual). Rakoff was struck by the sense of embarrassed celebrity that characterized many of the actors and actresses. These people were known by millions of Americans who regularly watched the afternoon melodramas. But these stars also understood that no one else, like Rakoff, knew who they were. The way he discussed it, these stars possessed a form of humility that was disproportionate to their real celebrity.

I wish that those who write about the exploits of evangelical celebrities would do so in a way that recognized these preachers’ limited appeal. I was in Seattle for a conference about six years ago and had just begun to follow Driscoll’s exploits. So for the weekend I decided to ask all the natives I met — mainly hotel staff and sales clerks — if they knew who Mark Driscoll was. No one knew him, at least among those to whom I talked. But if I had walked into a Redeemer-like Presbyterian church on the other side of the continent, I bet that at least 25% of the worshipers would have known Driscoll’s name.

Granted, Driscoll has been on The View! And Al Mohler has been on Larry King. And Tim Keller has been featured in New York Magazine. But if I asked my former neighbors in Philadelphia or my current ones in Hillsdale if they recognized these names, I’m sure they’d shrug and wonder why I don’t have a thicker, greener front lawn. This suggests that when evangelical celebrities appear on national broadcasts or in widely circulated publications, the effect is not to increase name recognition among Americans but to increase star status within a small demographic. It also suggests that people who feel marginalized cherish feeling vindicated by the national media. But such vindication doesn’t lead to real celebrity. The only evangelical who still fills that bill is Billy Graham himself. Though Graham’s real star power began in a similar way — evangelicals rooted for him and swooned when the media featured the evangelist. But then Graham and his organization cast a real national presence through their own media productions. It didn’t hurt that Graham appeared to hang out with various presidents though it is more likely that Nixon and company were using Graham for electoral purposes than that they were listing to him.

The punchline, if there is one, may be that celebrity is a two-pronged problem. You have to wonder about the pastors who allow their images to be cultivated in a certain way. But you also have to wonder about a group of believers who become giddy over seemingly famous pastors. Pathetic might be too strong. But unhealthy certainly applies.

Protestants are not supposed to venerate saints or stars. Built-in to the Reformed faith is a spiritual egalitarianism that says all are equal as sinners. Consequently, boasting, if it happens, should be in Christ. Some converts to Rome see evangelical veneration of saints and think it’s a small step to Rome’s regard for Mary and others. Rome’s veneration surely has more dignity than Protestantism’s crass commercialism (though both cultivate the same problem of reducing Jesus’ genuine notoriety). But the solution is not to dress up sentimental attachments to mere human beings with ritual and pomp. It is to gather each Sunday with the saints and worship God’s only begotten son who offered the only sacrifice for the sins of celebrities and fans.

From PCRT to Ligonier to Gospel Coalition

Anthony Bradley’s memories of coming into Reformed Protestant circles during the 1980s has been making the rounds and includes a question about why Baptists dominate contemporary discussions of Calvinism. Back in the day, according to Bradley, James Montgomery Boice, Sinclair Ferguson, and R.C. Sproul dominated discussions of Reformed theology.

They are all Presbyterians. In those days “Calvinism”/”Reformed” and Presbyterian were synonyms. Something happened, however. The Presbyterians lost their voice some would say and I’m not sure how to explain how that happened. Somehow “Reformed” today (2012) is more associated with Baptists (or Baptistic folks) D.A. Carson, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll.

As someone who regularly attended the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology at Tenth Presbyterian Church and who benefited from lectures and sermons by Boice, Sproul, John Gerstner, and Roger Nicole, I too have sometimes reflected on the change of ecclesiastical landscape over the last twenty-five years. Back around 1980 Reformed Protestantism in the United States looked to be the most formidable expression of Christianity and was even drawing converts from Rome. In addition to PCRT, the editors of Reformed Journal assembled a remarkable collection of academics and pastors to write thoughtfully about church life, politics, and the arts. Contributors included Rich Mouw, George Marsden, Mark Noll, Nick Wolterstorff, Ronald Wells and others. Not too long into the 1980s, however, Calvinists lost their swagger and mojo, and Roman Catholicism, thanks to the appeal of John Paul II, became the alternative for thoughtful and socially active “conservative” Christians.

Some could explain the change as simply a function of age and even death. Gerstner and Boice are no longer with us, and folks like Sproul are fast approaching retirement. Another factor is that the Reformed consensus of the early 1980s that appeared to be drawing conservative Presbyterians and Reformed Protestants together had fallen apart by 1990. The OPC found a way to avoid J&R with the PCA and in the process recovered something of its older polemical edge. The PCA became a refuge for disaffected Orthodox Presbyterians of a New Life persuasion. The CRC debated and finally gave its blessing to women’s ordination. As the OPC hardened, the PCA softened, and the CRC amended, Reformed Protestantism fractured.

Meanwhile, Ligonier became the national successor to the PCRT’s regional presence. And the process of building a national constituency led to the inclusion of speakers who would not have been considered either Reformed of Calvinistic, such as John Piper and John MacArthur. At the same time, while Ligonier expanded what it meant to be Reformed, the Alliance of Confessional Evangelicals — a body formed by Boice — broke up with Mike Horton’s version of confessionalism going one way and the Alliance’s going another. Neither ACE nor White Horse Media, however, could keep up with local/national ministries of Piper and Desiring God, Driscoll and Acts 29, or Tim Keller and the Redeemer phenomenon. When the Gospel Coalition came together it did on a national scale what Boice had done on a much smaller (and pre-internet) scale with PCRT. What is more, it received buy in from national celebrity academics and pastors in ways that Ligonier could not, dominated as it was by one speaker and author.

The answer to Bradley’s question then seems to be that in order to achieve national prominence, Calvinism needed to go off the Presbyterian and Reformed reservation and include groups that were much bigger and speakers more celebrated than Presbyterians could muster. Recent posts at the Coalition underscore the breadth that contemporary Calvinism represents thanks to the move from local to national settings. According to Collin Hansen, the Young & Restless phenomenon is a “critique movement”:

Calvinism has thrived, then, as a fire engine sounding the alarm and bearing water to put out the flames consuming American evangelicalism. We’re not surprised by the bad numbers. In fact, even inside some of the biggest churches in America, we’ve seen the limits of any strategy that fails to account for our God-given need for transcendence, transformation, and tradition. Numbers are a lagging indicator of unhealth. Even during the megachurch boom of the 1980s and 1990s, all was not well with the evangelical soul.

Some could only wish that the critique extended even to members of the Coalition, that it might fault Driscoll’s new measures (and clairvoyance) or Keller’s failure to be a traditional Presbyterian.

But when the definition of Calvinism includes Wesleyanism, what kind of critique might you expect? John Starke’s recent exchange with Fred Sanders, a Wesleyan who teaches at BIOLA and who quotes Calvin, reinforces the point about the breadth that afflicts the new Calvinism of the non-Reformed variety. Here is Starke’s introduction:

I’ve been reading Fred Sanders’s blog for a long time, and when his book, The Deep Things of God, came out, I was eager to read it. He’s a good writer, he loves and quotes the Puritans, he’s a reasonable thinker, and he knows how to do careful exegesis.

He’s also a Wesleyan.

I don’t mean to declare that so menacingly. But the first time I learned Sanders—associate professor at the Torrey Honors Institute of Biola University—was a Wesleyan, I was a bit surprised. It’s not that Wesleyans and Arminians can’t be careful interpreters and reasonable thinkers—I just don’t often resonate with their writings and conclusions quite the way I do with Sanders’.

And so, I had to know: For a guy who loves, quotes, and depends upon Calvin and Calvinists, why isn’t Fred Sanders a Calvinist? We corresponded, and he explained the one thing he wished Calvinists would stop accusing Wesleyans of doing and why Wesleyanism is only the opposite of Calvinism in a very small thought-world.

Will Fred Sanders make an appearance at a Gospel Coalition conference and receive a “Calvinistic” benediction? Odder things have happened in the world of contemporary Calvinism.

Why Calvinism Is More than Five Points and Why the Young and Co-Allies Need to Know

In my daily update from Google Alerts on Calvinism came a link to an Emergent dude (“minister” seems to be the wrong term) who comments on the recent further shenanigans at Mark Driscoll’s network (“church” seems to be the wrong term). I gather that another case of discipline has revealed another round of hip servant-leaders with a heavy hand and despotic disposition. The blogger, Tony Jones, believes that he detects a pattern.

I am posting it because I think it’s a cautionary tale. I think, as my headline indicates, that the particular theology that Mark Driscoll has embraced since he left the emergent posse (n.b., he was not a Calvinist when I met him in 1998) is untenable. John Piper excommunicates his son, C.J. Mahaney is removed from leadership because he is jerk to his colleagues, and now it turns out that Mark Driscoll has fired pastors and elders who had the gall to question his leadership.

Jones ends by hoping that these celebrity-servants will find a theology different from Calvinism, one that is “more open, loving, and progressive.” Yikes! Progressive!!?? Doesn’t Tony watch Glen Beck?

If only we lived in a world where discussions of Calvinism were not limited to the five-points (or even merely the one of God’s sovereignty). But that is not where we are. The Young and Restless Ones, with their Gospel Coalition enablers, have reduced “Reformed” to three or four points of theology and all the religious affections that Jonathan Edwards could fathom. What is missing is attention to the whole counsel of God, which includes teaching on the sacraments and church office, for starters. Chances are that if Driscoll, Mahaney, and Piper were in communions reformed according to the word where they received assessment and review from presbyters, they might not have the problems that Tony Jones notes. But if you have to go to classis or presbytery four times a year, you might not have time for the conferences, interviews, and books. Which suggests that the cure for celebrity pastors is Reformed Protestantism.

But as long as Calvinism is popular because of celebrity pastors and the politics that comes with it (just see the Larry Sanders Show), the branch of Protestantism associated with cities in Switzerland will be associated erroneously with the genuine errors of Baptists and charismatics.