The New Calvinist Safe Space

I let it go and then Aquila Report picked up Tim Challies’ recommendations for how to find good books. In the context of debates about safe spaces on university campuses and some students’ desire to avoid the dark and less encouraging parts of human existence, Challies’ advice sounds familiar:

Who wrote you? Familiarize yourself with trustworthy authors. As a reader you should have your list of favorites, the short list of people you regard as especially influential and trustworthy. I believe there is a lot of value in tracking a few authors through the course of their career and reading—or at least considering—every one of their books. This is difficult with an R.C. Sproul since if you begin today you are 100 books behind, but much easier with younger authors who have a shorter list of works. Don’t know where to begin? Then ask a friend or pastor. Or ask me. I’d try people like H.B. Charles Jr., Kevin DeYoung, Gloria Furman, Russell Moore, Andy Naselli, Barnabas Piper, or Jen Wilkin—people like that. They have each written a few books but not so many that you’ll need to spend two years catching up, and they are all likely to write quite a few more. Find “your” authors and read what they write. But then also track who endorses their books, who speaks at conferences with them, and so on. Start to look for connections.

Who published you? You should familiarize yourself with Christian publishers and learn which of them are especially trustworthy. There are quite a lot of excellent publishers whose books may vary by quality and secondary theological issues but which will never fall outside the conservative Evangelical stream. Learn to trust these ones. Among them are Banner of Truth, Christian Focus, Crossway, Evangelical Press, Matthias Media, P&R, Reformation Heritage, Reformation Trust, The Good Book Company, (and, I hope, Cruciform Press since I was involved in founding it). If they publish it, you can be quite confident in it. Other publishers publish a much wider range of titles and, depending on the company, the imprint, or the department, their titles may range from very good to quite concerning or from very good to outright heretical. For these you will need to exercise a bit more caution. Here I refer to IVP, Eerdmans, Multnomah, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, as well as the faith or Christian imprints of large mainstream publishers (Harper Collins, Penguin, and so on).

Two troubling aspects of this counsel stand out. One, it assumes that Christians are readers who only look for books that agree with their own outlook. This is a big difference between New Calvinists and Neo-Calvinists. The latter read widely, try to learn from the best scholars in a variety of fields, and have confidence that challenging reading material will not destroy a reader’s faith. In other words, Neo-Calvinists understand the merits of the Pulitzer Prize. New Calvinists cultivate a safe space shelf of books.

The other problem is this: Challies’ advice explains how the Gospel Coalition and celebrity pastors happen, or Jen Hatmaker for that matter. Readers who want trustworthy authors and publishers, and learn to associate certain names with edifying material, are not going to be critical or discerning of the books on the safe-space shelf. Instead of iron sharpening iron it’s pillow softening pillow. And it does become an echo chamber that is so far removed from the mainstream that I’m surprised Tim Keller is part of the enterprise. He seems to aspire to Big Apple relevance but has a following in a pietistic ghetto, or TKNY’s urbanism should scare off those who seek reassuring authors and publishers.

I give New Calvinists credit for not portraying themselves as the smartest Christians in the room, though their attachment to Jonathan Edwards shows a bit of intellectual ambition. But how in the world are Christians going to operate in a world where the most respected newspapers, magazines, and publishers are places where believers will not tread for fear of being challenged? And people think the Left is responsible for the polarization of our society. Challies provides just one more way for Christians to isolate themselves.

Hard or Soft?

Yesterday I participated in an ETS panel on The New Calvinism. (Here is one of the presentations. Here is evident of another ETS sighting.)

One thing that I kept asking myself and then asked everyone in open discussion was why so few New Calvinists ask hard questions about the movement. People talk a lot about how big, successful, important, and spiritual the whole enterprise is. People even mention the phrase, “work of God.” But who is willing to ask whether it is a work of God? And if you ask are you guilty of Pharoah’s disease — hardness of heart? And yet, it sure seems to me that one of the biggest differences between the Old and New Calvinists is that the former ask hard questions and make hard distinctions. Newbies don’t ask hard questions. Their softness of heart makes them see the good in everything. And that leads to a squishiness of conviction and teaching.

To illustrate the point, I submit a post by John Piper Tony Reinke (thanks to our southern correspondent) on celebrity pastors. The bottom line is that we can’t condemn them and we certainly can’t do without them. “Choose ye this day?” Do we have to? (And yet these are the people who are supposed to oppose lukewarm going-through-the-motions Christianity.)

Piper is interacting with Tommie Kidd about George Whitefield:

It doesn’t always work perfectly, but there’s no reason why a Christian celebrity should exist without accountability to a plurality of elders and congregation in a local church. The New Testament pattern for the local church is sufficiently capable of caring for celebrity Christians. The key is commitment and intentionality. “Celebrity preachers and artists would do well to build in real accountability structures for themselves within their church — and are they actually connected to a church to begin with? Some Christian celebrities today, if you scratch under the surface, are actually not involved with church. That is a serious warning sign” (Kidd).

Hello! Whitefield was a priest of the Church of England. He was supposedly under the oversight of a bishop and he wasn’t a mere Celebrity Christian the way that Amy Grant is/was a Celebrity Christian. He had taken ordination vows. His status as a preacher derived in part from his membership in the Church of England. So how much integrity did he have when contrary to church laws, laws he had vowed to uphold, he acted like those laws didn’t matter and went fellowshiping around with Protestant Dissenters?

Inquiring Old Calvinists want to know.

Here’s another hard question: do you ever worry about appearing to be self-serving?

Rejecting Christian celebrities on the basis of their fame is foolish. Paul tells us to do the opposite, and to see faithful Christian celebrities, not as idols, but as divine gifts. “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).

In other words, celebrities like Whitefield and More are part of God’s cascading eternal gifts. In the end, if you can anticipate a day when you will inherit the earth, then you have begun to discover the freedom you need to humbly and joyfully embrace every celebrity God has given the church — celebrity teachers, preachers, artists — as gifts. Such wide-hearted gratitude is the antitoxin for the poison of elitism.

Love Celebrity Christians. Love George Whitefield. Love John Piper.

One last query: could it be that fame clouds the way a Celebrity Christian sees himself? If you think it’s all a work of God (and forget that we have been here before with the First and Second Pretty Good Awakenings and the revivals of Billy Graham), that is, if you accent the positive and look at hard questions as just so much evidence of the lack of the fruit of the Spirit, then you may be the soft underbelly of the body of Christ.

For my (body of Christ) part, put me down for the pain in the neck.

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.

Didn't God Want the Israelites to be Tribal?

It’s a bit stale now, but Jonathan Merritt’s post about New Calvinism made the rounds and seemed to reassure those outside the New Calvinist world that they were fine if they weren’t following John Piper’s tweets. I for one needed no persuasion about the New Calvinists’ ordinariness, but I was curious to see Merritt fault the young restless sovereigntists for being tribal. He also believes they are isolationists. Merritt thinks of tribalism as being unwilling to criticize members of the group publicly (well, there is Matthew 18, hello). Isolationism afflicts the New Calvinists when they fail to interact with other ideas:

One of the markers of the neo-Calvinist movement is isolationism. My Reformed friends consume Calvinist blogs and Calvinist books, attend Calvinist conferences, and join Calvinist churches with Calvinist preachers. They rarely learn from or engage with those outside their tradition. (My feeling is that this trend is less prevalent among leaders than the average followers.)

The most sustainable religious movements, however, are those which are willing to ask hard, full-blooded questions while interacting with more than caricatures of other traditions. When neo-Calvinists insulate and isolate, they hyper-focus on those doctrines their tradition emphasizes and relegate other aspects to the status of afterthought. The Christian faith is meant to be lived and not merely intellectually appropriated. This requires mingling with others who follow Jesus, are rooted in Scripture, and are working toward a restored creation.

Gregory Thornbury, a Calvinist and president of The King’s College in New York City, told me, “I think the ‘young, restless, and reformed” are different than the Dutch stream in that they tend to stay with authors and leaders that they know. It does run the risk of being provincial, but I don’t think it is intentional. There are universes where people stay, and they read the things they know.”

In other words, Merritt does not appear to approve of separatism (thus identifying himself squarely with the neo-evangelicals who did not like the limits that fundamentalists set for Christian fellowship).

The idea that Christians need to interact with alien ideas and people is also what drew Merritt from Atlanta to New York City:

New York is also a place where cultures and ethnicities and ideas collide. One cannot afford to self-segregate and self-insulate in comfortable cultural or religious echo-chambers like other places.

As White once remarked,

“A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”

There are also spiritual impulses behind my decision. Christians have formed a felt presence in New York City for as long as its existence, but in recent years, the city’s evangelical community has quietly flourished. In some ways, New York City represents the fringes of the Kingdom. The faithful there are asking questions that others are not yet asking and attempting to discern what following Jesus might look like in a pluralistic, postmodern context.

This excites me because my work as a writer—particularly my column at Religion News Service—is devoted to exploring those spaces where the Christian faith intersects culture. In New York City, religion collides with music, art, politics, public opinion, and current events with regularity. Rooting myself in this richly diverse context will enable me to better probe the questions of faith others may be afraid to ask.

We may conclude, apparently, that Merritt favors cosmopolitanism to sectarianism.

But what sense does this make of biblical calls for God’s people to isolate themselves. The Israelites weren’t exactly interested — or weren’t supposed to be — in a Jerusalem that featured the best pork barbecue in the Middle East or that encouraged Plato to relocate his academy there. The New Testament threw out the older ethnic hostilities between Jew and Greek, but Paul’s instruction that believers should be separate and distinct from non-believers (2 Cor 6:17) is not necessarily a call to go cosmopolitan. Some believers like Merritt may be strong enough for the collisions with a spectrum of ideas and artistic expressions. But is he a pastor looking out for the good of his flock?

After all, even politicians know that tribalism is what makes groups tick. As Nick Clegg, the British deputy Prime Minister, recently admitted, “at the end of the day, you’ve also got to look after your own side, your own tribe, your own values.” Merritt should not fault New Calvinists for doing something so basically human, not to mention something so obviously important to the integrity of the church, unless he expects Christians to live like writers who reside in New York City.

Neo-Calvinists, New Calvinists, and Roman Catholics Together?

Both have trouble thinking about Christianity apart from culture.

Drawing together this vision of Scripture we see that God intends us to have dominion over the earth and the rest of creation – which means we must care for it and shape it. This is the foundation of culture, rooted in the land, which we cultivate and use to produce the material elements of culture. In the New Testament we see that culture from a higher perspective is way of life, which embodies the teaching of Christ and the will of the Father in our lives. This is a new dominion of holiness, which sanctifies the world. Both visions are united by seeking to enact on earth what God has made known to us and commanded. A striking image of this comes from Exodus: “According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it” (25:9). Christian culture makes according to the pattern revealed to us by God. . . .

Pope John Paul II knew personally the power of culture as he sought to preserve his nation’s identity in the midst of Nazism and Communism. Through his trials, he became convinced that “the strength of the Gospel is capable of transforming the cultures of our times by its leaven of justice and of charity in truth and solidarity. Faith which becomes culture is the source of hope” (“The World’s Changing Cultural Horizons,” §7). He may also have given us the strongest statement on the necessary interconnection of faith and culture: “The synthesis between culture and faith is not only a demand of culture, but also of faith … A faith that does not become culture is not fully accepted, not entirely thought out, not faithfully lived” (“Address to the Italian National Congress of the Ecclesial Movement for Cultural Commitment,” Jan. 16, 1982). So, yes, faith does need culture so that it may be lived out in the world in a coherent and complete way.

As a 2ker, Stellman might not have used the gateway drug of transformationalism. Then again . . .

The Presbyterian Narrative

If Ref21 had commboxes with their posts, I could simply make this point (or set of points) in response to Rick Phillips over there. But I guess ACE stands for Anti-Commbox Evangelicals.

At the risk of offending Bill McClay (as if he reads OL) who wrote a very fine piece on the “American narrative,” the invocation of the bad n-word, narrative, and attaching it to Presbyterian may allow me to make my point/s. Here is what McClay finds vexing about “narrative”:

It is one of those somewhat pretentious academic terms that has wormed its way into common speech, like “gender” or “significant other,” bringing hidden freight along with it. Everywhere you look, you find it being used, and by all kinds of people. Elite journalists, who are likely to be products of university life rather than years of shoe-leather reporting, are perhaps the most likely to employ it, as a way of indicating their intellectual sophistication. But conservative populists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are just as likely to use it too. Why is that so? What does this development mean?

I think the answer is clear. The ever more common use of “narrative” signifies the widespread and growing skepticism about any and all of the general accounts of events that have been, and are being, provided to us. We are living in an era of pervasive genteel disbelief—nothing so robust as relativism, but instead something more like a sustained “whatever”—and the word “narrative” provides a way of talking neutrally about such accounts while distancing ourselves from a consideration of their truth. Narratives are understood to be “constructed,” and it is assumed that their construction involves conscious or unconscious elements of selectivity—acts of suppression, inflation, and substitution, all meant to fashion the sequencing and coloration of events into an instrument that conveys what the narrator wants us to see and believe.

I invoke “narrative” less to be trendy than to introduce to Presbyterians (real Calvinists?) the idea that we all have narratives and that we may want to be more self-conscious about them even without using the word. (Self-aggrandizement alert — I am a historian and I am actually licensed to think about “narrative.”)

Rick Phillips has a Presbyterian narrative that generally derives from New Side Presbyterianism, the ones who supported the First Pretty Good Awakening. That gives him the leverage, apparently, to further identify with New Calvinism over the Old (at least as long as the Old are critical of the new — mind you, criticism isn’t bad because New Siders and New Calvinists criticize Lutherans; where the Old Calvinists go off the rails, apparently, is in siding with Lutherans over New Calvininsts). Phillip’s affection for the New likely cools when it comes to the New School Presbyterians since they weren’t very good Calvinists. The Old School Presbyterians were good Calvinists, but they were also generally New Siders at heart — they liked aspects of the Pretty Good Awakening of the 18th century. When it comes to New Life versus Old Life, I’m betting Phillips will side with the former since Tim Keller represents the former and OL (duh) represents the latter. Plus, ins’t Keller a New Calvinist?

The problem with this narrative is that it does not address the rupture that the First Pretty Good Awakening introduced into Reformed Protestantism. The stress on experimental piety and revivals undermined the formal ministry and routine piety that had characterized many pockets of the Reformed world prior to the first celebrity pastor – George Whitefield.

What is also important to notice is that Reformed Protestants prior to Whitefield had no trouble identifying with Lutherans. Just look at the Harmony of the Confessions (1581). According to Wikipedia (another no no, but it sure is handy):

It grew out of a desire for one common Creed, which was modified into the idea of a selected harmony. In this shape it was proposed by the Protestants of Zurich and Geneva. Jean-François Salvart, minister of the Church of Castres, is now recognized as the chief editor of the work with some assistance from Theodore Beza, Lambert Daneau, Antoine de la Roche Chandieu, and Simon Goulart. It was intended as a defense of Protestant, and particularly Reformed, doctrine against the attacks of Roman Catholics and Lutherans. It does not give the confessions in full, but extracts from them on the chief articles of faith, which are classified under nineteen sections. It anticipates Georg Benedikt Winer’s method, but for harmonistic purposes.

But look at what these Old Calvinists decided to include in the Harmony:

Besides the principal Reformed Confessions (i.e., the Tetrapolitan, Basel and Helvetic, and Belgic Confessions), three Lutheran Confessions are also used, viz., the Augsburg Confession, the Saxon Confession (Confessio Saxonica), and the Württemberg Confession, as well as the Bohemian Confession (1573) and Anglican Confession (1562). The work appeared almost simultaneously with the Lutheran Formula of Concord, and may be called a Reformed Formula of Concord, though differing from the former in being a mere compilation from previous symbols.

So the question is, where did the love go? Why not more love for New Calvinists instead of Lutherans? And more importantly, what does this reveal about the Presbyterian narrative? Doesn’t it show that we have lost touch with a part of our tradition that used to regard Lutherans as more in sympathy with Reformed Protestantism than charismatics? It’s a free country and Phillips can tell whatever narrative he wants. But shouldn’t he admit he’s not telling the whole story? And one of the main factors that have prevented American Presbyterians from telling the whole story is their love affair with the First Pretty Good Awakening — an event that had all sorts of detractors on good confessional and ecclesiological grounds, sometimes who go by the name Old Side (not Old Light a Congregationalist term). (Self-serving alert: see Seeking A Better Country.)

What should also be noticed is that the Old Calvinists who put together the Harmony did not affirm union with Christ to the degree that Phillips does, as if it is the central dogma that holds Reformed Protestantism together. In fact, union is never mentioned in either the Belgic Confession or the Three Forms of Unity. If it does appear it is always in the word communion. So is Phillips prepared to dismiss the Three Forms of Unity (no pun here) in his insistence on union with Christ?

Finally, I have to take issue with Phillips’ misrepresentation of 2k, which in my mind borders on the rhetoric of the BBs:

Moreover, if being a Lutheran-leaning Old Calvinist means that I must embrace a radical two kingdoms position that will keep me from speaking publicly against manifest evils like abortion and homosexual marriage, then once again I am willing to have my Old Calvinist credentials held in derision.

I would prefer that Phillips extend the same generosity to 2k that he does to New Calvinism. But if he doesn’t want to, he should know that 2kers all affirm the confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches which teach that murder and homosexual marriage are sinful. But even Lutherans know that carrying a baby to birth or marrying a person of the opposite sex is not going to merit God’s favor. And that is the point of 2k — for the guhzillionth time — that the good works performed in obedience to the law (state or ecclesiastical) won’t save. Can we get some credit here?

Postscript: Here’s is how a charismatic outsider sees it:

It is the revivalist style of at least some members of the New Calvinism punctuated by constant references to Jonathan Edwards and the rise of charismatic Calvinism that has many Old School Presbyterians concerned. Piper side-stepped the main issue between the two camps: from an Old-School perspective the New Calvinism smacks of the evangelical revivalism of a D. L. Moody, or, more to the point, the baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday (insert Mark Driscoll reference here). Sunday once called the novelist Sinclair Lewis “Satan’s cohort” in response to Lewis’s 1927 satirical novel Elmer Gantry, whose main character—a hypocritical evangelist—was modeled on Sunday’s flamboyant style.

That older coalition of Congregationalists, Baptists, and New School Presbyterians combined dispensationalism, celebrity revivalism, and fundamentalism—the very traits that Old School Presbyterians disliked then and now. It is not without some irony that Piper acknowledged the important role of Westminster Seminary while not even mentioning that it was the epicenter of Old School Presbyterianism with its anti-revivalist and cessationist stance (at the end of his lecture Piper got a laugh when he said, “you don’t even want to know my eschatology.” Indeed!). . . . All of this is to say that the New Calvinism looks a lot like the old New School Presbyterianism with a Baptist and charismatic flair to it.

Does this make me an outsider? Or can outsiders pick up better what’s going on than insiders?

Postpostscript: Look mom, no inflammation:

In speaking of Old Calvinism, I admit that I am using the expression loosely for the community of Calvinists generally connected with Old School Presbyterianism and their conservative Reformed Baptist counterparts. One thinks of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and the Banner of Truth, and James Montgomery Boice and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (the host organization of this blog). They are united by a commitment to Five-Point Calvinism, ordinary means of grace ministry, the regulative principle of worship, and a traditional elder-rule approach to church polity.

The Book for which New Calvinists Have Been Waiting

Recovering Mother Kirk was at one time selling for upwards of $200 at some used book outlets, much more a function of economics than of talent (Baker pulled the plug sooner than markets became saturated). Now it is back in print, thanks to the folks at Wipf & Stock. Here is a sample that may attract the young restless sovereigntists:

To hear some proponents of contemporary worship one would think that the church of Jesus Christ had never been able to worship well and properly until the advent of praise songs, Contemporary Christian music, and greater expressiveness in church services. Bill Hybels, for instance, the pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the flagship congregation for so many of the innovations in late-twentieth-century Christian worship, admitted in a recent interview that he did not understand worship until the mid-1980s while attending a conference at Jack Hayford’s (the author of the now classic praise song, “Majesty”) Church on the Way. There Hybels witnessed a worship leader who was prepared and was able “to take us from where we were, into the presence of God.” After forty-five minutes to an hour of singing when the leader assisted in “adoring,” “confessing before,” and “expressing our absolute trust and devotion” to God, Hybels went back to his hotel room and said “This changes everything!” “Every Christian should regularly experience what I did tonight.”

Key to Hybels’ new conception of worship was the biblical teaching that Christians are to worship their God “in spirit and in truth.” This meant not only that sounding teaching was important for worship, as in a good sermon, but also that believers need to be “emotionally alive and engaged” in the experience of worship. Indeed, what has been crucial to the success and appeal of the newer forms of worship has been a rediscovery of the work and presence of the third person of the Trinity in the gathering of believers to bring praise and honor to God. One Reformed pastor, whose congregation began to incorporate some of the recent worship innovations in his services, says that when his church “discovered a new way to sing praise” the power of the Spirit “washed over us that day.” Previously this congregation had only given “lip service to the Spirit” but now they were uniquely aware of the “gentle presence of the third person of the Trinity.” Likewise, Jack Hayford, writing for Leadership magazine, links the newer forms of worship directly with the Spirit. “Expressive worship cultivates a willingness to be taught by and to submit to the Holy Spirit.” This connection between sponteneity, informality and emotional intensity in contemporary worship explains the popularity of such phrases as “spirit filled,” or “spirit led” in discussions about worship. The presence of the Holy Spirit, along with the signs of his presence, means that worship is not only of God but authentic, sincere and right.

These appeals to the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, however much they spring from sincere devotion, reflect a profound misunderstanding of the third person of the Trinity. Advocates of spirit-filled worship act as if the work of the Holy Spirit has been inextricably bound up with the use of praise songs, electric guitars and overhead projectors. Few of these writers seem to remember exactly when and where Jesus said that his disciples were to worship in “spirit and truth.” As it happened, our Lord said those words almost two-thousand years ago in Samaria and his intention in uttering that phrase was not prophetic, as if he saw a day, two millennia in the future, when his people would finally apprehend the reality of spirit-filled worship. In fact, coming to terms with Christ’s meaning in this widely appealed to phrase, “in spirit and truth,” clarifies what Christian worship is because it explains the work of the Holy Spirit both in the salvation of God’s people and in the period of redemptive history after the ascension of Christ. (from “Spirit Filled Worship,” pp. 91-92)

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.

Experimental Lutheranism

The comparisons between Calvinism and Lutheranism continue. One of the most recent comes from James Rogers, who teaches political science at Texas A&M. Rogers concedes that the average evangelical Protestant has a harder time with Lutheranism than Calvinism for a number of reasons.

First, Lutherans are ethnic (psst, so are Dutch Reformed, German Reformed, Scottish Presbyterians, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Huguenots, and English Puritans):

Many Lutheran churches began as “ethnic” churches, not even using English in worship. And memories of forced union with Reformed churches in Germany in the early nineteenth century (which prompted much Lutheran immigration to the U.S) also induced isolation from broader American Evangelical culture.

Then we have the problem that Lutherans don’t teach as well as Calvinists do. For starters, Luther didn’t write a systematic theology and Calvin did. But the Lutheran creeds are not as accessible as Reformed:

I think that most modern American Evangelical readers, attempting to read Lutheran confessional documents by himself or herself, will usually get lost more quickly, and give up sooner, than when reading the analogous Calvinist confessional texts.

But what about Luther’s Small Catechism? Luther’s Small Catechism present the opposite problem to our Evangelical seeker, it doesn’t provide enough perspective to engage him. Luther wrote the Small Catechism as the most basic introduction to the faith in an age of widespread ignorance among layfolk. It starts simply enough with the ten commands, “The First Commandment. ‘Thou shalt have no other gods.’ ‘What does this mean?’ ‘Answer. We should fear, love, and trust God above all thing.’”

While the Small Catechism is well suited for the purpose for which it was written, it is not well suited to our modal Evangelical seeker, who already has a passing knowledge of the Scriptures and is looking for deeper answers. While the Augsburg starts too far down the stream for our Evangelical autodidact, the Small Catechism, as it were, starts too early to engage the same person.

In contrast, the Shorter Catechism is highly memorable and even inspiring.

And then Lutheranism suffers from a sacramental bridge too far:

Lutherans believe that God works through the sacrament with the Word, and so God actually confers grace in and through baptism and the Supper. For Lutherans, it is God who works through these means, and not man. Therefore Christians really receive God’s forgiveness through Christ when we are united with Christ in baptism, and receive Jesus’ true body and the blood poured out for our forgiveness in the bread and wine that we receive.

While this may seem to be theological nit-picking, the differences create important differences in the spiritual and ecclesiastical experience of the average layfolk in the two traditions.

Philip Cary wrote several papers a few years back that helpfully contrast the general Evangelical/Protestant understanding of “sola fide” with the role of the sacraments in Luther’s understanding of “sola fide.” Cary characterizes the standard Protestant view of “sola fide” with this syllogism:

Major Premise: Whoever believes in Christ is saved.
Minor Premise: I believe in Christ.
Conclusion: I am saved.

This syllogism implies what Cary calls this the requirement of “reflective faith.”

The hour I first believed, the moment when I can first say “I truly believe in Christ” is the moment of my salvation, of my conversion and turning from death to life. What matters is that moment of conversion, not the sacrament of baptism, because everything depends on my being able to say “I believe.” For only if I know that I truly believe can I confidently conclude: I am saved. . . .

In contrast, Luther’s “sola fide” for Cary is grounded not in the believer’s internal act of will, but in the work of Christ applied to “me” in baptism. Cary characterizes Luther’s syllogism this way:

Major premise: Christ told me, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Minor premise: Christ never lies but only tells the truth.
Conclusion: I am baptized (i.e., I have new life in Christ).

Cary observes that the “difference is subtle but makes a huge logical difference in the outcome.” First, Christ’s promise is spoken to me in baptism. It is “Christ who speaks the baptismal formula” through the mouth of the pastor (or the lay baptizer in the case of emergency). These words are spoken to “me in particular.”

I see Rogers/Cary’s point, sort of. But what exactly does Christ’s promise in baptism have to do with sola fide? Luther did believe, did he not, that faith was the instrument by which we receive Christ’s righteousness or the way we trust the promises of God. It is one thing for Christ to speak. It is another for that speaking to be true of me. One is the doctrine of Christ. The other is the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (who regenerates for saving faith). So how Cary is addressing the significance of sola fide except in a couple of removed steps of theological reasoning, I don’t know.

But the payoff for Rogers, the way that evangelicals might find Lutheranism more appealing, is the way that experimental Calvinists have been attracting Protestants for over four centuries — that is, by really, really, really meaning it. Rogers is on to this when he concludes:

If Lutherans really believe what their theology says about Word and Sacrament, then I think they would be equally passionate about engaging other Christians: When Christians understand what Christ offers in the sacraments, that understanding, and what is actually received, changes their lives because they come into direct contact with the death and new life of Jesus.

That’s all you need to appeal to the young restless. Tell then that ideas (read doctrines) have consequences and that believing those ideas will change your life. Voila! You’re inflamed.

Another Way to Tell the Difference between the Young Restless and Old Reformed

A CNN story reports on the inroads that beer is making among evangelicals:

● “Beer, Bible and Brotherhood,” an Oxford, Connecticut, group launched by the Rev. John Donnelly of Christ Church Quaker Farms, which studies Rick Warren’s “40 Days in the Word,” while quaffing Sam Adams brews.

● “What Would Jesus Brew?” Valley Church in Allendale, Michigan, sponsors gatherings for craft beer enthusiasts, designed to “reach out to people in a loving, grace-filled way that meets people where they are and as they are.”

And all this is on top of the dozens of Catholic “theology on tap” events taking place at taverns across the country.

In the Protestant world, the trend toward tolerance of alcohol reaches beyond churches into conservative college campuses as well.

Last August, Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute — which just last year lifted a ban on long hair for men and nose stud earrings for women — dropped its ban on alcohol and tobacco consumption for its faculty and staff.

In September, Southern California’s Biola University — founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles in 1908 — lifted its ban on alcohol and tobacco for of-age graduate students, noting that the changes “shift the responsibility of conduct from the institution to the individual.”

But John MacArthur, the watchdog of Calvinism-lite, worries about the effects of beer on the YRR crowd:

In 2011, well-known pastor John MacArthur minced no words in chastising the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement of young Calvinists for their fondness of beer.

“Cultivating an appetite for beer,” wrote MacArthur, “is not merely bad missional strategy and a bad testimony; it is fraught with deadly spiritual dangers.”

What would MacArthur do with the Nicotine Theological Journal (the next issue of which is just around the corner)?

One of the striking features of OPC and PCA General Assemblies — in this era when the fundamentalists did win the smoking wars — is the number of presbyters who light up all manner of tobacco products and seem to know that fellowship increases with the amount of second-hand smoke.

That is a reason why I will take the Young Restless as more seriously Calvinistic (pardon the adverb) when they add nicotine to hops.