Archive for ‘Calvinism’

10/13/2017

The New Reformers

You’ve heard about the “old” Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Their recovery of core biblical doctrines paved the way for what we call Protestantism.

Those first Reformers certainly did not agree on everything, but when it came to the mysterious interplay of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation, they all leaned toward prioritizing God’s role. This position has come to be referred to as ‘Calvinism’ or ‘Reformed theology.’

Yet from the earliest days of Protestantism there arose an alternate stream that tilted toward a greater emphasis on human free will. This camp is generally called ‘Arminian’ or ‘non-Reformed.’

Throughout the last 500 years of Protestantism, each of these traditions has enjoyed times of ascendancy and also experienced periods of decline in popularity. Even among Baptists, both strands have been present since the beginning, and continue to vie for influence today.

To the consternation of some and celebration of others, Reformed theology has been on the rise over the last several decades. In 2009, Time magazine even included the movement on its list of “10 ideas changing the world right now.” Here are some of the new Reformers who have been instrumental in Calvinism’s comeback:

JI PackerJ.I. Packer
Though he is British, J.I. Packer’s impact on late 20th- and early 21st-century American evangelicalism has been profound. Better known for his writing than his speaking, Packer’s books and articles have re-introduced the spirit of the Puritans to new generations. While displaying theological meatiness, genuine and lively piety also comes through in his works, like the best-selling classic “Knowing God.” And his book “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” seeks to dispel the idea that Calvinists do not have motivation to share the gospel.

 

RC SproulR.C. Sproul
Together with Packer, R.C. Sproul was a key figure in the “Battle for the Bible” in the 1970s and 80s that produced an articulation of inerrancy that continues to moor many evangelical institutions. In addition to being a popular author, Sproul is also a pastor in Florida and founder of Ligonier Ministries that spreads his teaching through multiple media. Countless people have been introduced to Reformed theology through Sproul and his teaching that if God is not sovereign, God is not God.

 

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, the faithful ministry of John MacArthur plods on. He is best known for his expositional preaching ministry through books of the Bible. In almost 50 years at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Ca., he has preached on every single verse of the New Testament. His Calvinistic flavor is distributed through his radio program “Grace to You,” his conference speaking, and the school he founded, The Master’s Seminary.

 

John Piper

John Piper
Calvinism can be found in several different forms. Packer is an Anglican. Sproul is a Presbyterian. MacArthur is a non-denominational dispensationalist. The next, and arguably the most influential, of the new Reformers is a Baptist. John Piper left academia for the pastorate in 1980, serving at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis until he retired in 2013. His preaching passionately portrays a big and majestic God who is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

Piper is known for re-applying the emphases of 18th-century pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards to today, combining rigorous biblical thinking with white hot religious affections. Piper’s most famous book, “Desiring God,” became the name of his ministry which furthers Reformed theology largely through free online content. Now retired from pastoring, he is still a sought-after speaker and is chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, which he founded to further spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.

 

Tim KellerTim Keller
If Piper is best known for directing attention to God’s glory, Tim Keller tries to help people see that the pinnacle of God’s glory is his grace in the gospel of Christ. Keller co-founded The Gospel Coalition, a broadly Reformed network of churches that advocates for gospel-centered ministry.

He has also done more than any other to highlight cities as strategic places for gospel ministry. Keller planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the center of New York City in 1989. After seeing dynamic conversion growth over the last 20-some years, he has just recently retired from the senior pastor role there. Now he works with the church planting center that spun off from his church and has helped start 423 new churches in the last 15 years. Keller waited well into his ministry before publishing much, but now he is cranking out about a book a year, many of which model how to winsomely engage today’s secular city-dwellers with the gospel.

 

Al MohlerAl Mohler
Al Mohler has been the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) since he was 33 years old. In his book “Young, Restless, Reformed,” Collin Hansen called SBTS “Ground Zero” not only for the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), but also the upsurge of Calvinism. Mohler courageously led the seminary to return to the Abstract of Principles, its original doctrinal statement, which not only reflects a high view of Scripture but also the Reformed bent that some claim was held by the founders of the SBC. Under his leadership, the denomination’s flagship seminary now claims to represent the largest number of students training for pastoral ministry in one place at any time in the history of the Church.

 

Mark DeverMark Dever
Mohler teamed up with friend and fellow Southern Baptist Mark Dever and others in 2006 to start a conference called Together for the Gospel, which has fanned the flame of Calvinism via bi-annual conferences. Dever also has pastored the historic Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., since 1994, overseeing its renewal. Out of that experience he wrote a book titled “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” that birthed a ministry by that name which seeks to build healthy local churches. Through materials, conferences, and internships, Dever has impacted many pastors seeking to reform the church.

While all the figures mentioned above are currently alive, they range in age from 57 to 91—not exactly young. Who will provide leadership for the next phase of this movement? Several new New Reformers have already crashed and burned.

Furthermore, there is a (white, male) elephant in the Reformed room—the list above includes no people of color or female voices. There are some signs Reformed theology is gaining traction in minority contexts, as seen in places like the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) led by Jemar Tisby. There are also Reformed conferences, blogs, and books popping up that are for and/or by women (e.g. Aimee Byrd’s “Housewife Theologian”).

In many ways, the future of the new Calvinism remains to be seen. But as a Calvinist would quickly remind you, “God knows, and he is in control.”

 

This article originally appeared in the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

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05/09/2017

Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I gather monthly with a group of like-minded pastors for fellowship and to discuss pastoral ministry.

 

Lately we’ve been reading together Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford UP, 2013).  This is from the Epilogue:

 

The task of the historian is not simply that of an antiquarian who dusts off ancient artifacts that are roped off from the general public with a sign reading ‘do not touch.’  The study of religious history invites, even compels, us to investigate the past with an eye toward the present, to explore the foreignness of history with the expectation that ‘cultural immersion’ of this sort will not only expand our knowledge of peoples and events but also enrich our experience by providing needed perspective, timely wisdom, apt warnings, and precious glimpses into the failings, the beauty, and the sheer complexity of the human condition.

Manetsch then provides four final observations and insights for pastoral life today gleaned from its practice back then.

(1) “The vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one.”   “Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith.”

(2) “The importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work.”  “Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.”

(3) “The leading role that the Scriptures played in Calvin’s Reformation, suggesting the central importance of God’s Word for Christian renewal in our own day.”

(4) “The ministry of pastoral care.”  “In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.”

08/14/2016

God’s Desire To Be Honored

From the Gospel Transformation Bible notes to 1 Samuel 2:12-36:

God’s desire to be honored, or glorified, may on a shallow reading seem vainglorious.  But that God should require his creatures to honor him, to give him weight, is no more vainglorious than that the law of gravity requires to be acknowledged.  Simply put, God has weight!  To neglect this fact is to lose one’s own center of gravity.  Giving God the center is at the heart of accepting the gospel.  Every line of the prayer Jesus taught his followers to pray manifestly gives weight and centrality to God (Matt. 6:9-13).  As our hearts are gripped with the magnitude of what God has done for his people in the gospel of grace, we are compelled to gladly ascribe all honor and glory to God alone.

10/22/2014

The Ways of God

Twentieth-Century Southern Baptist Pastor Vance Havner wrote these words after his wife died:

Whoever thinks he has the ways of God conveniently tabulated, analyzed, and correlated with convenient, glib answers to ease every question from aching hearts has not been far in this maze of mystery we call life and death…  [God has] no stereotyped way of doing what He does.  He delivered Peter from prison but left John the Baptist in a dungeon to die….  I accepted whatever He does, however He does it.

Vance Havner, Though I Walk Through the Valley (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1974), 66-67.

08/21/2013

Stranded in Space

This is a graphic illustration for explaining the enslavement to sin the Bible speaks of the, the complete inability of humans to save themselves, and the need of grace from the outside. It’s from Michael Bennett’s Christianity Explained course:

This experiment was shot in a space station and shown on a TV documentary.

One of the astronauts was floating at rest inside the space vehicle, wearing just a T-shirt and shorts. When he stretched out his hand, he was a metre from the wall. He was then commanded to move himself to the wall.

Being in a weightless condition, he had full freedom to move. He moved, spun, jack-knifed etc, but every time he was able to stretch out his hand, he was still exactly a metre from the wall!

The TV commentary explained: ‘We all have a physical centre of gravity. He can spin freely around his centre of gravity, but he cannot move it! If we left him there, he would eventually die, still a metre from the wall of the space station. One of the others must reach out and pull him to safety.’

What a perfect illustration of ‘sin’. We appear to have free will to do what we like. Every day we make free-will choices and decisions.

But spiritually, the Bible says we are in the most terrible form of bondage. We are all, by nature, slaves to selfishness, self-centrednedss and pride. I am in bondage to my own spiritual centre of gravity. This is what the Bible means by sin. I want to run my own life, with myself as the controlling centre of my world.

I cannot save myself, but if I remain in this condition I will die, spiritually, and without hope.

Another person from outside myself must step in and bring me to safety. This is what Jesus has done for us by his life, death and resurrection.

03/28/2013

Why I Am A Baptist

While some are less than helpful, there are some really insightful testimonies in Why I Am A Baptist, edited by Tom Nettles and Russell Moore (Nashville: B&H, 2001).

In Don Whitney’s essay he quotes from William Cathcart’s Baptist Encyclopedia (1881; emphasis mine):

The Baptists of this country hold that the Word of God is the only authority in religion, that its teachings are to be sacredly observed, and that to religious doctrines and observances there can be no additions except from it; they hold that a man should repent and be saved through faith in the meritorious Redeemer before he is baptized; that immersion alone is Scripture baptism; that only by it can the candidate represent his death to the world, burial with Christ, and resurrection to newness of life; that baptism is a prerequisite to the Lord’s Supper; they hold the doctrines of the Trinity, of eternal and personal election, total depravity, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ, progressive sanctification, final perseverance a special providence, immediate and eternal glory for the righteous after death, and instant and unending misery for the ungodly. They hold the doctrinal articles of the Presbyterian Church, and they only differ from that honored Calvinistical community in the mode and subjects of baptism, and in their congregational church government.

Such uniformity could not be claimed today, but that this was case during the founding of our denomination is a major reason why I am a Baptist.

03/25/2013

The SBC and Calvinism

From F.H. Kerfoot, a Southern Baptist Pastor. Written circa 1880.

In common with a large body of evangelical Christians, nearly all Baptists believe what are usually termed the ‘doctrines of grace,’ the absolute sovereignty and foreknowledge of God; his eternal and unchangeable purposes or decrees; that salvation in its beginning, continuance and completion, is God’s free gift; that, in Christ, we are elected or chosen, personally or individually, from eternity, saved and called out from the world, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, through the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; that we are kept by His power from falling away, and will be presented faultless before the presence of His glory.

Tom J. Nettles and Russell Moore, eds., Why I Am A Baptist (Nashville: B&H, 2001), 48; emphasis mine.

02/11/2013

Coleridge on Calvinism

John Piper’s biographical sketch of the poet George Herbert was one of the highlights of the recent Desiring God Conference for Pastors. I found this quote by Samuel Coleridge on George Herbert’s Reformed spirituality well put:

If ever a book was calculated to drive men to despair, it is Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s on Repentance. It first opened my eyes to Arminianism, and that Calvinism is practically a far, more soothing and consoling system…. Calvinism (Archbishop Leighton’s for example) compared with Taylor’s Arminianism, is the lamb in wolf’s skin to the wolf in the lamb’s skin: the one is cruel in the phrases, the other in the doctrine.

Gene Edward Veith wrote in his doctoral dissertation on George Herbert’s life and poetry that Herbert is the “clearest and most consistent poetic voice” of Reformed spirituality. “The dynamics of Calvinism,” he says, “are also the dynamics of Herbert’s poetry.” Veith writes:

Herbert is a lamb clothed in the wolf skin of Calvinism…. Calvinism [as Coleridge says] ‘is cruel in the phrases,’ with its dreadful language of depravity and reprobation; Arminianism has gentle phrases (free will, universal atonement), but is cruel ‘in the doctrine.’ Coleridge, perhaps faced with the incapacity of his own will, his inability, for instance, to simply choose to stop taking opium, saw the consolation in a theology that based salvation not on the contingency of human will and efforts, but on the omnipotent will and unceasing effort of God.

From Gene Edward Veith, Reformation Spirituality: The Religion of George Herbert (Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, 1985).