Archive for the ‘Culture and society’ Category
Many Christians in the UK will be aware of one or more of the various campaigns opposing the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill currently passing through the Houses of Parliament. There was significant opposition to this legislation in the House of Commons, though the Bill did pass its Second Reading and is now heading for the Committee Stage (keep up at the back). After this it will pass to the House of Lords, where their lordships will hopefully give it a good kicking.
Anyway, one of the campaigns seeking to muster principled Scriptural opposition to the Bill is called Keep Marriage Special (other campaigns are available). This particular campaign deliberately maintains a narrow focus on the teaching of Scripture with regard to marriage, avoiding other concerns (however legitimate). They have been having some technical issues with their online petition, but it is now up and running here.
The petition is for UK residents only aged 16 and over. Anyone answering this description can sign even if one or all of the other similar petitions have been signed (there are also printable petitions for download for those who may wish to sign up but who do not have ready access to the interweb). So, if you are interested, please check out Keep Marriage Special.
Spurgeon offers an antidote to the epidemic of haziness in the allegedly-evangelical would-be mind:
Know what you know, and, knowing it cling to it. Hold fast the form of sound doctrine. Do not be as some are, of doubtful mind, who know nothing, and even dare to say that nothing can be known. To such the highest wisdom is to suspect the truth of everything they once knew, and to hang in doubt as to whether there are any fundamentals at all. I should like an answer from the Broad Church divines to one short and plain question. What truth is so certain and important as to justify a man in sacrificing his life to maintain it? Is there any doctrine for which a wise man should yield his body to be burned? According to all that I can understand of modern liberalism, religion is a mere matter of opinion, and no opinion is of sufficient importance to be worth contending for. The martyrs might have saved themselves a world of loss and pain if they had been of this school, and the Reformers might have spared the world all this din about Popery and Protestantism. I deplore the spread of this infidel spirit, it will eat as doth a canker. Where is the strength of a church when its faith is held in such low esteem? Where is conscience? Where is love of truth? Where soon will be common honesty? In these days with some men, in religious matters, black is white, and all things are whichever colour may happen to be in your own eye, the colour being nowhere but in your eye, theology being only a set of opinions, a bundle of views and persuasions. The Bible to these gentry is a nose of wax which everybody may shape just as he pleases. Beloved, beware of falling into this state of mind; for if you do so I boldly assert that you are not Christian at all, for the Spirit which dwells in believers hates falsehood, and clings firmly to the truth. Our great Lord and Master taught mankind certain great truths plainly and definitely, stamping them with his “Verily, verily;” and as to the marrow of them he did not hesitate to say, “He that believeth shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned;” a sentence very abhorrent to modern charity, but infallible nevertheless. Jesus never gave countenance to the baseborn charity which teaches that it is no injury to a man’s nature to believe a lie. Beloved, be firm, be stedfast, be positive. There are certain things which are true; find them out, grapple them to you as with hooks of steel. Buy the truth at any price and sell it at no price.
Avram Grant’s story is an incredible one. We know him as the quietly spoken man who took Chelsea to within a John Terry penalty of the Champions League title in 2008.
We know him as the boss at West Ham and the man who gave the passionate speech to Portsmouth fans on the brink of relegation and administration in 2010.
His own story – the son of a Polish Jew who married the daughter of an influential Iraqi lawyer who was forced to flee to Israel – is remarkable, but the history of his family is as rich as it is tragic, as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking and as inspiring as it is dark.
My brother blogs movingly about football manager Avram Grant’s family history and sense of the past.
Dear Prime Minister,
Re: Same-sex marriage
You must be aware that there are many Christians in this country who are experiencing a variety of reactions to the proposal (or is it decision?) to permit same- sex marriage. Reactions include disbelief, that such a major change in the family and social structures of this country could go through without a serious debate about the issues, or at least get a mention in your party manifesto to put people ‘on notice’; disillusionment that political power is being used to override the sincerely held convictions of millions on a major issue; and disappointment at the way our very valid objections and questions are being sidestepped or met with contempt or abuse. . . .
Read the rest of Mostyn Robert’s thoughtful letter to the PM here.
Football (read soccer if you are from the US) fans will be deeply troubled by the news that filtered through from White Hart Lane earlier this evening. During the course of the match, just before half-time, the Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed – quite separately from the action on the pitch at the time – and was immediately attended by medics. Resuscitation was immediately attempted, including CPR and a defibrillator.
The other players were plainly deeply shocked and distressed. Muamba was taken from the field apparently not breathing independently and rushed to hospital. News of his condition has yet to be confrmed. The worst is feared and the best is hoped for.
Certain things become immediately plain in the aftermath of such a tragedy.
The first is that things quickly achieve their proper perspective. Bill Shankly’s idiotic observation that “some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that,” is immediately revealed for the nonsense it is. As Mark Lawrenson put it, “Football is absolutely and totally immaterial in comparison of what’s happened to Fabrice.” Watch the faces of the players and the spectators and it immediately becomes clear that when life and death are in the balance, football does not matter very much at all. If it did, someone would have dragged Muamba’s body to the side of the pitch to allow the teams to get on with the game. Rather, when a man’s life – when his immortal soul – is in the balance, suddenly the trophies and glories of this passing world are seen not to matter very much at all.
The second is that the religious instinct in men made in the image of God has not been eradicated. To be sure, there will be thousands who sincerely care about Fabrice Muamba and his recovery who will have no thought of God, but look at the tweets and Facebook updates, listen to the interviews, and what is the one thing that so many commentators are saying and encouraging? “Pray[ing] for Fabrice Muamba.”
A typical response reads, “”Doesn’t matter who you support. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t a football fan. Doesn’t matter if you aren’t religious. Pray for Fabrice Muamba.”
These are people who – by and large, and by their own admission – live day by day with no regard for God, acting as they please in accordance with their own desires, with God’s name usually no more than blasphemy on their lips. But then the crisis strikes, and what is the response? Let us pray. But why? Really? How? For what? To whom? In what way?
That these questions are not answered, and might not be answerable, does not alter the essential fact: the instinct of fallen man when faced with a situation he cannot handle is to cry out to God, or at least to whatever he believes crying out is to whatever God he may imagine. The point here is not so much to critique the theology of the praying as to point out the reality of the reaction.
Let us not imagine that secularism and irreligion and sinfulness have eradicated the image of God in mankind. Let us not forget that man is, by his very nature, a religious individual, a reliant, dependent individual, a worshipping being. When a real crisis occurs, that instinct – however marred and twisted – rises swiftly to the surface.
Prayer is a real hope for Fabrice Muamba. Those who know their God and know what prayer is might pray for his survival and recovery.
But let us also be ready to aim at the target once more revealed by the reaction to this terrible event. Let us be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us. Let us take the opportunity – when men who have nowhere else to go, being rendered powerless (and knowing it) by a turn of events for which they have witnessed, begin to cry out to God – to make God known: “Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, him I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.23).
It is not wrong for the thoughts and prayers of true believers to be concerned with Fabrice Muamba, asking that God would preserve his life and – without presuming to know his relationship with the living and true God – to save his soul. It is right for our thoughts and prayers also to be with those shaken and bewildered men and women who have had their deepest fears and their great weakness and ignorance suddenly revealed, and to ask that they would come to a knowledge of the truth, seeking and finding the God whom we proclaim, the living and saving Lord of heaven and earth.
I have not watched it all, and I am not recommending all the perspectives (as usual, the commentary is awfully misguided in its assumptions and vocabulary, and I don’t know what all the ‘missionaries’ will turn out to be), but this BBC programme called Reverse Missionaries looks like it might be interesting: it is tracing the steps of three people who are apparently seeking to carry the Word of God back to the country from which it first came to theirs. It will be available for a few weeks, perhaps only in the UK.
How does 2000 years of Christian consensus on the doctrine of the Godhead get sent to the back of the bus so blithely in the name of unity and racial reconciliation?
PS Just realised. Even saying this proves that everything McDonald and company said to be true, and shows that Phil Johnson is, indeed, a racist. Allegedly.
PPS Voddie Baucham is helpful. Unfortunately, he’s a sell-out and a traitor. Allegedly.
Don Carson has weighed in on his friend Mark Driscoll’s recent comments (see also the craven follow up) about pastoral ministry in Great Britain; Phil Johnson chips in with his two-penn’orth here (pointing out the irony of the fact that the Gospel Coalition can overlook claims of divinely-inspired pornography in Driscoll’s mental cinema, can ignore his crass book on marriage, can sweep under the carpet his validation of a false-gospel preaching modalist, but is not prepared to allow the man to get away with casting nasturtiums on the manly vigour of us allegedly beardless Brits).
Anyway, Mr Carson has a longer history of significant connection with the UK than Mr Driscoll, and offers an alternative perspective. At the same time, Mr Carson is no more a native of the UK than is Mr Driscoll, and his perspective raises the quizzical eyebrow at one or two points, reflecting as it does his distinctive convictions. So, to use Mr Carson’s own language, “you might be interested in hearing another perspective,” while we are about sharing them. I include below Carson’s six observations, and offer some comments.
(1) Mark correctly observes the low state of genuine Christian confessionalism in the UK. Still, it varies considerably (as it does in the United States, though with lower figures over there). There’s a ring around London in which close to 10 percent of the people go to church, many of them evangelicals; the percentage in Northern Ireland is higher, though falling. By contrast, in Yorkshire the percentage that goes to church once a month or more is 0.9 percent; evangelicals account for only 0.4 percent. Both figures are still falling. This is comparable to the state of affairs in, say, Japan.
I am not sure that Mark had much at all to say about “genuine Christian confessionalism in the UK.” I am not sure what Mr Carson means by “genuine Christian confessionalism” but if he is referring to a genuine adherence to one of the classic statements of Reformed doctrine among Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists, he is seriously overstating his case. I mentioned the claim that there is “a ring around London in which close to 10 percent of people go to church” – perhaps we might call it ‘the ring of choir’? – to a group of mainly London pastors yesterday, and – subject to queries about how wide the ring is, where it might be placed, what sort of church is involved, when these people go and how often – the claim was substantially laughed out of court. I should be fascinated to know where these statistics come from, and what lies behind them, but they painted an overly rosy picture for the men I asked.
(2) The phenomenon of the state church colors much of what is going on. Whether we like it or not, in England itself (the situation is different in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) the Church of England is the source of most heterodoxy and of much of the orthodoxy, as well as of everything in between. It has produced men like Don Cupitt and men like Dick Lucas. Exactly what courage looks like for the most orthodox evangelicals in that world is a bit different from what courage looks like in the leadership of the independent churches: their temptations are different, their sufferings are different. Although I have found cowardice in both circles, I have found remarkable courage in both circles, and the proportion of each has not been very different from what I’ve found on this side of the Atlantic.
Mr Carson correctly identifies the phenomenon of the state church as a real issue. However, I would seriously contend with his assertion that “the Church of England is the source of most heterodoxy and of much of the orthodoxy” in England. In my experience, there is far more heterodoxy and theological blancmange than anything else coming out of the Church of England, despite the existence in it of men of the calibre of Dick Lucas; to call it the source of “much of the orthodoxy” in England is over-egging it more than a little. He makes the good point that courage may look different in different spheres, although I think that a bit more readiness to walk away from the culture of compromise in the national church would do some good to all involved.
(3) As for young men with both courage and national reach: I suppose I’d start with Richard Cunningham, currently director of UCCF. He has preached fearlessly in most of the universities and colleges in the UK, and is training others to do so; he has been lampooned in the press, faced court cases over the UCCF stance on homosexuality, and attracted newspaper headlines. Then there’s Vaughan Roberts, rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, in constant demand for his Bible teaching around the country. I could name many more. In Scotland one thinks of men like Willie Philip (and he’s not the only one). Similar names could be mentioned in Wales and Northern Ireland.
I am curious as to the Don’s circle of contacts if the men he mentions in England are all associated with the national church. I could mention a good number of young and older men of real courage and conviction among the Independents, but some of them – precisely because they are men of courage and conviction – may not be moving in the circles in which Mr Carson moves, or which might receive his blessing.
(4) More important yet, the last few years in England have seen the invention and growth of the regional Gospel Partnerships. In my view, these are among the most exciting things going on in England at the moment. They bring together Church of England ministers and Independent ministers who are passionate about the gospel, who see the decline, and who are crossing many kinds of denominational and cultural divides to plant churches (regardless of whether the new churches turn out to be Anglican or Free), and raise up a new generation of preachers. They are broadly Reformed. They are annoying the mere traditionalists on both sides of the denominational divide; they are certainly angering some bishops; but they press on. In the North West Partnership, for example, they’ve planted about 30 churches in the last eight years, and the pace is accelerating. That may seem a day of small things, but compared with what was there ten years ago, this is pretty significant, especially as their efforts are beginning to multiply. Elsewhere, one church in London has about 17 plants currently underway, all led by young men. The minister at St Helen’s-Bishopsgate, William Taylor, was formerly an officer in the British Army: there is not a wimpy bone in his body. The amount of flak he takes on is remarkable.
This is, for me, Mr Carson’s most contentious statement. These Gospel Partnerships are all the rage at the moment, and here we are asked to applaud those who “who are crossing many kinds of denominational and cultural divides to plant churches (regardless of whether the new churches turn out to be Anglican or Free).” But such applause must deliberately overlook the definite and even definitive differences between national or state and free church ecclesiology. These differences become even more pronounced when a Baptist considers the national or state church model. Perhaps I fall under the condemnation of Carson’s withering dismissal of “the mere traditionalists;” perhaps I simultaneously escape the watery label of “broadly Reformed,” which may be a fair trade-off. Let’s be clear: to know that churches where the gospel is being preached are being planted is no small joy. Furthermore, there are many Anglicans whom we esteem and admire for their courage of heart and clarity of thought on a variety of issues. But the idea that a principled Dissenter can overlook the inbuilt rottenness of Anglicanism as a system is a nonsense: the state church is, by its very nature, flawed. The nature of the church (its very constitution, including issues to do with the manner and reality of one’s entrance into and continuing participation in the visible body of Christ) is no insignificant matter, and the fact that it is too often treated as a moot point is dangerous. Here again, if I may also nod to the American scene, we may be dealing with those for whom “Coalition” or “Partnership” sometimes seems a weightier word than “Gospel,” and for whom the reality of the church is, if not overlooked, then perhaps underdeveloped. These may seem to be gains, but I fear that they are short-term gains which will leave long-term confusion and even damage.
Let me again be clear: I do appreciate true gospel preachers among the Anglicans, and my contention is not with people first, but with systems. I am properly impressed at the zeal and wisdom that my brothers show in evangelising and teaching and church-planting, and I acknowledge that it puts too many Independents to shame. But I do not think it any accident that now, as in the past, the most faithful and fruitful men in Anglicanism tend to be criticised, marginalised and even excluded; how I wish more of them would simply walk away and be free indeed! So I am willing to learn from the character and competence of such men; I am ready to benefit from their preaching and writing; there are times and places when I cheerfully congregate and cooperate with specific men; but I cannot abandon what I think is at stake: the very principle of the church and its nature, my concern over the generic credibility of national or state church in itself (qua church, you might say), and the specific incredibility of the Church of England.
I found something from Charles Spurgeon the other day. When I read it to my wife, she sighed in the way that only a wife can, commenting that she had not realised how mild my convictions really are. Said Spurgeon, at a prayer meeting in November 1868, on the eve of a General Election in which the establishment of the Church in Ireland was a live issue:
But there are some of us whose tongues will wax more eloquent because we are obliged to wait; and if this matter of the Church in Ireland be kept in hand for many a day, we shall be thankful, for it will come to the turn of the Church of England all the sooner: for we do not conceal our purpose,– we shall never rest until in England the Church is free, and until this spiritual adultery,– for it is nothing else,– by which the Kingdom of Christ is defiled, shall be for ever put away, and be remembered only as the darkest blot that ever disfigured the Church’s face. Pray earnestly for this blessing! I pray for it as devoutly as I ever asked for salvation. If I might but live to see the day when there shall be a free church in a free nation, and all this State-churchism done away, I could almost say with Simeon, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.’
C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Forgotten Prayer Meeting Addresses (Leominster: DayOne, 2011), 24.
It does matter whether the churches we plant are Anglican or Free, because the issues are of pith and moment, especially considering the long-term purity and fidelity of God’s people.
(5) But there is a bigger issue. We must not equate courage with success, or even youth with success. We must avoid ever leaving the impression that these equations are valid. I have spent too much time in places like Japan, or in parts of the Muslim world, where courage is not measured on the world stage, where a single convert is reckoned a mighty trophy of grace. I am grateful beyond words for the multiplication of churches in Acts 29, but I am no less grateful for Baptist ministers like my Dad, men who labored very hard and saw very little fruit for decades in French Canada, many of whom went to prison (their sentences totaled eight years between 1950 and 1952). I find no ground for concluding that the missionaries in Japan in the 20th century were less godly, less courageous, less faithful, than the missionaries in (what became) South Korea, with its congregations of tens of thousands. At the final Great Assize, God will take into account not only all that was and is, but also what might have been under different circumstances (Matt 11:20ff). Just as the widow who gave her mite may be reckoned to have given more than many multi-millionaires, so, I suspect, some ministers in Japan, or Yorkshire, will receive greater praise on that last day than those who served faithfully in a corner of the world where there was more fruit. Moreover, the measure of faithful service is sometimes explicitly tied in Scripture not to the quantity of fruit, measured in numbers, but to such virtues as self-control, measured by the use of one’s tongue (James 3:1-6).
Agreed: there are dark places where a single glimmer of light is, in some senses, a greater demonstration of God’s saving power than it might appear in those places where the church has a relatively greater degree of freedom, however that freedom may be used or abused. This assessing on the basis of numbers is a modern and Western disease which reflects a far too commercial spirit in Christ’s church.
(6) Even where some ministries are wavering, it takes rare discernment to sort out when there should be sharp rebuke and when there should be encouragement. Probably there needs to be more of whichever of these two polarities we are least comfortable with! But I would not want to forget that the Jesus who can denounce hypocritical religious leaders in Matthew 22 is also the one of whom it is said, “He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope” (Matt 12:19-21)—in fulfillment of one of the suffering servant passages. My read is that in some of the most challenging places of the world for gospel advance, godly encouragement is part of the great need of the day.
And, insofar as Mr Carson’s words are intended as such, we gladly accept them where we can, settling down as we do so to a lovely cup of tea.
I know this sounds like a crazy notion. I’m not 100% convinced myself. But I’ve begun to wonder if there might not be enough public teaching in today’s church.
Kevin DeYoung reasons through what he fears may be a lack of teaching in the church. I think he has some valid concerns. How much of an appetite for truth taught is there in the church of Christ today?
A friend in the US – in response, it must be said, to my asserting that he was “a crusty botch of nature” – sends me this link, in which the all-conquering, magnificently hairy, ever-erudite and splendidly insightful Mark Driscoll is alleged to assert
Let’s just say this: right now, name for me the one young, good Bible teacher that is known across Great Britain. You don’t have one – that’s the problem. There are a bunch of cowards who aren’t telling the truth.
Now I am really hurt. I shall have to crawl back into bed and tuck up with blanky while I have a good cry to get it out of my system before finding a soothing herbal tea to calm the shattered Walker nerves.
I just hammered out a response of some length, but – at the point of publication – I remembered something that I read yesterday in William Taylor’s Paul the Missionary:
a time of excitement is not favourable for determining duty. . . . When we are in a passion, which we should be as seldom as possible, we ought to defer deciding on the matter which has provoked us until our calmness has returned. It is always a good rule to hold over a thing of that sort. Let the irritation subside; let reason, which is for the moment dethroned, resume its sway; let God’s forgiveness be asked, and his direction sought in earnest prayer, then gravely, deliberately, and soberly let us do as he may indicate. Never decide on any course when you are excited by anger. If something have [sic] occurred to destroy your equilibrium, and you feel you cannot restrain your wrath, then sit down and write a letter to him who has been the cause of your anger, put into it all that you feel, make it hot and strong, so that your soul is thoroughly relieved by telling him thus a piece of your mind, then fling it aside until the next day. When you open your desk in the morning, read it and see what a fool you were; then put it into the fire, and let it and your wrath burn together. After that, decide what you shall do, and you will acknowledge the truth of the old proverb, “There’s luck in leisure.” (303-304)
It’s good advice, and so the spleen-venting gets laid aside, and I leave you to judge the matter for yourself. Of course, if people mistake restraint for cowardice, I might have to do a bit of chest-beating later on to vindicate myself!
Anyway, Mr Driscoll subsequently writes that he really isn’t that important after all and we should not waste our time on him: “The best thing is to not waste time blogging, twittering, and talking about me.” That is pretty good advice, even though it is slightly ironic coming at the end of a post in which Mark spends a fair amount of time doing just that. He asserts that he has been taken out of context by the man who interviewed him who clearly didn’t like him very much (the self-protective tone doesn’t exactly tally with Mark’s cry for caveman Christianity). Sadly, Mark, when your national and international reputation is for boorish aggression and vulgar self-serving, this is just the kind of quote that people will anticipate, seize upon, and even doctor to play to your image, and so a man falls into the net that he himself has laid.
Besides, can Driscoll really say that he has honestly never heard of Paul Levy?
UPDATE: Never heard of this gent before, but he writes some interesting things of this issue.
Carl Trueman gives us his top story of the year:
The Aquila Report, source of all world knowledge for confessional Presbyterians, has published its list of the top fifty stories which it ran this year. At the head of the list is an entry from Anthony Bradley. It is nearly a year old and I missed it first time around but, for any who do not yet check the Aquila Report with any regularity, it is well worth a read. The first point certainly seems to stand in anecdotal continuity with the experience of many of us in rural/suburban churches who have been left wondering in recent years if all of the urban success is the result of the Holy Spirit or simple demographic shifts — shifts which might actually end up subverting the overall mission of the church by concentrating fewer and fewer resources in fewer and fewer hands. Only time will tell. You can read the piece here.
“Here” tells us that the missional church planting movement is mainly attractional, has missed the value of education, has missed the target of real justice in cities, and fundamentally failing to keep up with the pace of cultural change in cities, largely because it has yoked itself to that cultural change. Ouch, and worth pondering.
Is it always wrong to abuse a woman? Is it wrong to respond to her response to abuse with more abuse? For example, would it be wrong for someone to cut off the ears and nose of a young wife who had tried to escape the clutches of a husband who abused her and kept her with his animals?
Not really, at least according to a good number of students taught by Stephen L. Anderson, who displayed to his class,
without comment, the photo of Bibi Aisha. Aisha was the Afghani teenager who was forced into an abusive marriage with a Taliban fighter, who abused her and kept her with his animals. When she attempted to flee, her family caught her, hacked off her nose and ears, and left her for dead in the mountains. After crawling to her grandfather’s house, she was saved by a nearby American hospital. I felt quite sure that my students, seeing the suffering of this poor girl of their own age, would have a clear ethical reaction, from which we could build toward more difficult cases. . . .
I had expected strong aversion; but that’s not what I got. Instead, they became confused. They seemed not to know what to think. They spoke timorously, afraid to make any moral judgment at all. They were unwilling to criticize any situation originating in a different culture.
They said, “Well, we might not like it, but maybe over there it’s okay.” One student said, “I don’t feel anything at all; I see lots of this kind of stuff .”
Another said (with no consciousness of self-contradiction), “It’s just wrong to judge other cultures.”
Such a moral vacuum in our education system is hardly surprising, but it is still fearful. In occasional opportunities to teach in local schools (perhaps in religious assemblies), I usually receive instructions that essentially request training in ethics without instruction in morals, the moulding of attitudes and the avoidance of absolutes. In other words, please build a superstructure, but whatever you do, don’t lay a foundation.
As a result, we are left with a shifting spectrum of would-be ethics grounded in something as substanceless as one’s own subjective sense, pounded into compliance by the notion of cultural relativism and moral irrelevance.
Isaiah had sober words for such confusion: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Is 5.20-21).
Yesterday I began a well-intentioned survey of the New Calvinism with an attempt to capture some of its characteristics. Today we move on . . .
The first thing that I particularly appreciate about the New Calvinists is that they set out to be Christ-oriented and God-honoring. There may be questions as to the degree of their success in this, but I think it is right to acknowledge that it is their sincere intention. One of the springs of this movement has been John Piper’s concern that God should be glorified, bound up in his notion of “Christian hedonism.” He has recast the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism to suggest that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” We are repeatedly told by Piper and others that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This is the kind of language that drives much of this movement, seeking that Christ be known and made known to the glory of God. What it means to glorify God in Christ is very much a matter of Jonathan Edwards mediated through John Piper, and this distinctive understanding is a keystone in the movement. What we cannot deny is that this movement is substantially galvanized by concern for the supremacy of God in Christ and that the Lord of Glory be magnified in all things. That is a good thing and something we should embrace. While we may fine tune some of this down the line, we should recognize that this is the sincere aim and it is to be heartily commended.
Secondly, it is a grace-soaked movement. If you read the books, follow the blogs, listen to the conversations, you will hear “gospel-this” and “gospel-that” and “gospel-the-other,” almost to the point of inanity (there has to be another adjective you are allowed to use sometimes!). Nevertheless, the gospel is the great thing and Christ and Him crucified is at the heart of things. Grace has become and has remained amazing to these brothers and sisters. There is a freshness and enthusiasm that comes with this sense of discovery. For example, when you hear John Piper talk about Jonathan Edwards, you hear the abiding excitement of a man who has discovered something that he once did not know but which now has gripped his soul, and that gives him a vigor, an excitement, a freshness. For many in the movement, they have recently come to begin to begin to understand the beauty and the splendor of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and there is a corresponding enthusiasm: it is not old hat but rather new and delightful, and so this contributes to what is in many ways a vibrantly joyful movement. These friends are excited about the fact that God has loved them in Christ quite apart from their own deserving and that results in a contagious and attractive enthusiasm. They delight to be loved by God in Christ.
Thirdly, it is a missional movement. You may or may not like that buzz word, but it is the one in use. The New Calvinism tends to be passionately and sacrificially missional. There is a desire that the glory of God be known in all the earth and so these friends seek to preach the gospel and to make disciples (there is a good and healthy emphasis on discipleship in many circles). They want to plant churches and to train preachers. Their concern is local, national and international. This is a good model; it is, in many respects, a reflection of New Testament Christianity, and obviously that is to be heartily commended. They are ready to overlook and overcome boundaries that may cripple other people. They are reaching the lost; many of these friends are reaching people that we as Reformed Baptists are not. They are going to places we do not and perhaps will not. They are dealing with people of whom we may be scared. They are having doors opened before them that have never opened to some of us and they are taking these opportunities and they are going in to tell people about the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that this is wonderful and I wish that it were more characteristic of us.
Then, fourthly, it is a complementarian movement. By that I mean it seeks to regard men as men and women as women in their proper places and spheres as God has appointed them. Nevertheless, I want to qualify this slightly in two ways. First of all, in keeping with the movement as a whole, this is a spectrum, and there are manifestations of this complementarianism with which not everyone will agree: there would be differences in emphasis and perspective at certain points. Secondly, I find it rather amusing that – given all the things that the New Calvinism seems determined not to be about – complementarianism in the realm of gender and male/female relationships and responsibilities is such a big issue, so much so that I could almost put this in the list of defining qualities. The New Calvinists make a big deal about the fact that they are or intend to be biblically complementarian. That concern works itself out as a corresponding influence on what it is to have a healthy family life, what it means to have male leadership in the church, and other such areas. At times the masculinity that is presented becomes almost a caricature (drifting in some circles toward a sort of hairy, Neanderthal, breast-beating machismo) but generally they want men to be men and women to be women. They want that to be so in single life, in married life, in church life, in family life. This is a good and appropriate emphasis proving to be very attractive both to men and women. As women find men who really are men and as men are given opportunity to really be men (especially younger men who are finding models of masculine headship, of vigor, or passion, of endeavor in this movement) one gets a sense of deep answering unto deep. It is probably one of the reasons why this is a movement of so many younger preachers. They have gathered a spearhead of stable (usually), active, energetic and committed young men to carry the gospel out alongside of whom are many vigorous, active, energetic, and committed women. I think that is, in essence, a good thing.
Furthermore, the New Calvinists tend to be both immersed and inventive. They are immersed in many things. They are immersed in theology, they are readers. If you talk to some of the book publishing houses, including some of the more conservative ones, you will find that some of their major sales are in New Calvinistic circles. The New Calvinists are lapping up high grade theology. They are reading good books and big books. They love to know more about God. They are thinkers. They want to know how God’s truth relates to and works out in the church and the world. They are inventive and immersed in the online world. Many are what are called “early adopters.” The latest smart phone technology comes out and they are the first in line. And Apple – it’s got to be Apple. If you own a PC you are almost by definition not a New Calvinist. They blog exuberantly and exhaustively. They are at the cutting edge of technology in many respects. They are not afraid to use social media and to harness the power of online interaction. Again, you may have questions about the nature and impact of those media, the effect of the medium on the very message that it carries, but they – often taking account of those concerns – say, “It’s here, let’s get it, let’s use it in order to bring Christ and the gospel to bear on the people who are in these environments.” So they will use both old and new media very effectively to propagate the truth and the New Calvinist take on it. I put those two things together because it is very much the movement that carries along the gospel as they teach it. It is not quite one and the same thing, but they do not come separate from each other: the gospel comes dressed in New Calvinist colors and defined by New Calvinist convictions. All this makes them highly visible and very persuasive in the demographic group who are immersed in online culture, and that is almost everyone who is in their thirties and younger. When I first went to university not so long ago, students were encouraged to use computers to submit at least some of their essays; I wonder if anyone now uses a pen to write an essay. It is only in the last ten to twenty years that so much human social interaction has moved online. So anyone in their mid-thirties and younger is almost by definition immersed in that world unless they have deliberately decided to step away from it. And this is the world that the New Calvinist substantially inhabits, and it is this familiarity which makes them very potent in that narrow sphere. However, this raises other issues: What if you are not part of that significant online presence? What if you do not live online? What if you know nothing about what a friend calls “TwitFace”? This concentration can lock out some who are not immersed in the same media, but – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever else it may be or may become – these will be men and women who will be there first and they will be looking to take advantage of these things to the glory of God.
A sixth and final commendation is that this is a movement committed in principle to expository preaching. Again, there are styles and approaches to which I might and would take exception, and there are other things which adhere around the preaching which I would question, but the underlying commitment is to explain and apply the Bible as the Word of God. Many of the leading lights of the movement are pastors and preachers, committed either to systematic expository series or to some other form of expository ministry. The conferences are, by and large, preaching conferences. Discussions revolve around what the Bible says and what it means. Books are written expounding the Word of God. While there are and there will continue to be discussions about whether or not the expositions, conclusions and applications are accurate – the same sort of often-healthy discussions as happen within, across and between other circles – this commitment at least provides some common ground for the discussion to advance: “What does the Bible say?” Where this principle is espoused and not undermined, a common foundation allows for a mutual pursuit of the truth as it is in Jesus.
These are far from the only commendations, but they are at least six areas where I have appreciated and learned from some of the emphases of my brothers and sisters.
To be continued . . .
 This commendation has been added following feedback since the material was originally developed.
As some may recall, many moons ago I produced a survey of the New Calvinism. Subsequently, and building upon that, I was invited to address the topic at a sister church in the US, which I sought to do. Following on from that, I was asked to put that material in print, to which I replied, “Tricky, as it’s only a series of headers with a few notes on a sheet of paper.” The upshot was that the original address got transcribed, and I got round – eventually – to editing it. I used the substance of that address recently for a series of adult Bible classes in the church which I serve, and it provoked a lot of profitable engagement. And, now, finally, I am posting it here in its slightly more polished, slightly less personable form. In truth, since I wrote this, the situation has moved on. When I dealt with the situation in the church here, I was obliged to deal with the Elephant Room fracas (where, as you will imagine, I dropped much of the language of brotherly engagement when dealing with those who deny the Trinity or or used it far more guardedly when dealing with those who welcome as brothers those who preach the same heresy), as well as to go into the issues of prophecy and other spiritual gifts in more detail.
[UPDATE: I see that Kevin DeYoung is also reviewing the Young, Restless, Reformed phenomenon at his blog.]
So, asking that you take into account that there are some elements, which – if I were writing it now – would be necessarily more robust, and that this is the briefest version without a lot of the colour and additional comments, I offer herewith . . .
The New Calvinism considered
What qualifications do I possess for the task of assessing a movement like the New Calvinism? I first came across some of the men who are now known as New Calvinists a few years after John Piper first published Desiring God. A friend of mine was enthusing about this book and told me, “You have to read this book, it will change your life.” I thought that if a friend was speaking of a book in this way then I should at least do him the honor of reading it. Since then I have been engaged with the New Calvinism in various ways. A number of my peers have been very much caught up with it, and I have felt the pressure to imbibe it, to embrace it, to be a part of it.
This interest and engagement have continued even though this movement is largely an American phenomenon. I therefore have something of an outside perspective. (The New Calvinism in the UK is not exactly the same as it is in the US – it does not have the same breadth.) I have appreciated much of what I have seen. I have benefited from some of it and I have disagreed with some of it. The process of evaluation has been (and remains) a long one in which reading, listening, discussing, and going to conferences all played a part. My sense was that this was a significant movement. That was one reason for the pressure to jump on the bandwagon. However, while I did not want to dismiss what was profitable, but neither did I want thoughtlessly to embrace something without careful consideration.
It is out of that tension and that developed process that I hope to bring some observations, as a Christian, a pastor and part of a generation that has seen the New Calvinism take off and take hold over a period of years. However, I also want to issue some caveats, some initial warnings which we must take into account as we look at the New Calvinism.
First of all, this is a personal and pastoral assessment. I am not pretending that I have a monopoly on insights into individual men and movement as a whole. I may be mistaken in what I suggest. There are thousands of blog posts and books and videos and conferences that I have not read or watched or been a part of. If I am ignorant, mistaken, or misguided at any point, I am readily prepared to be corrected and thus to fine tune my understanding.
Secondly, this is a fraternal and irenic assessment. In other words, I speak as a brother with a desire for genuine understanding, true unity and gospel peace. I am not setting out to attack those I consider lunatics and heretics, neither do I intend to lay waste to everything that is before me (even where I disagree). I have several friends who would call themselves New Calvinists, friends whom I respect and appreciate. I am by no means seeking to dismiss them or to trample them into the dust.
Thirdly, I am seeking to provide a balanced appreciation. This is not intended to be a hatchet job. My wife is American, and she suggests with much legitimacy that the British can be professional cynics. I do not wish to give vent to a sarcastic strain, nor fall into the trap of painting a caricature of New Calvinism that could easily be mocked (even in a gracious, brotherly spirit!). Such a straw man is tempting to erect precisely because it is easier to knock down than the real person. I should also point out that I am not setting out to accomplish a sort of Reformed Baptist whitewash, in which I climb up above everybody else, confident in our own superiority in all things, and – looking down on everybody else with a smug air – say, “We are the best. If only you were like us, how much better this world would be.” I it is not my intention to ignore or to defend Reformed Baptists, but to deal with the New Calvinism.
The fourth and the most important caveat is that the New Calvinism is not monolithic, by which I mean that it is not a single and uniform entity. The New Calvinism is a spectrum. It is a broad river with many currents, having different eddies with varying depths and shallows. In an assessment such as this I have to paint with a broad brush, not having the opportunity to nuance and finesse some of my comments. Exceptions to some of my general statements could easily be found. I understand that, but I am obliged to deal in generalities to some extent, recognizing that there will be exceptions. I will have to refer to points on a spectrum, but I do not mean to imply that all these things are universal or uniform when they are not.
Characteristics of the New Calvinism
What are the qualities of the New Calvinism? How do you define this movement, taking into account that it is a spectrum? Where do you start?
The first – and perhaps somewhat obvious quality – is Calvinism itself, but even this must be qualified. In general, this movement is united by convictions about the sovereignty of God in salvation, hence the name “New Calvinists.” Note, however, that an appreciation of God’s sovereignty in salvation is not necessarily the same thing as being “Reformed.” Furthermore, while there is a very real sense in which Calvinism is more than just the five points, it is not easy to argue that it is less than those points. Here we must take into account that not all the New Calvinists are, in fact, Calvinists. Some are what are called Amyraldians. Moïse (or Moses) Amyraut was a French theologian who developed what was basically a four point Calvinism. The primary point of contention is the nature and extent of the atonement. Several within the New Calvinist movement believe in what is sometimes described as “unlimited limited atonement” – the idea that the death of Jesus was intended for all men but that it is effectively applied only to the elect. (The Calvinist’s conviction would be that the death of Jesus was intended only for the elect and therefore did not fail or fall short in any degree.) Taking all this into account, we admit that the title of the well-known book by Collin Hansen which has become almost a label for the movement, Young, Restless, Reformed, is much catchier than Young, Restless and mainly Calvinistic, apart from those of us who are slightly Amyraldian. Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, and my fingers and keyboard, I will continue to use the phrase “New Calvinism” to describe this movement.
In sum, this movement can be described (slightly inaccurately) as Calvinistic insofar as it maintains a general unity around the notion that God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners. Indeed, one could argue that the true father figure of the New Calvinism is probably more Jonathan Edwards than John Calvin, and even then it is Jonathan Edwards mediated through John Piper.
Secondly, this is a movement of characters (or figureheads, personalities, celebrities or gurus, depending on how pejorative a label you wish to apply, or what kind of a follower you are dealing with). If you spend enough time in this environment you might eventually theorize that there is somewhere an inner sanctum where these magisterial figures sit. These are the men who appear on the key websites, videoed in cool monochrome sitting around discussing great principles and actions and movements while we sit in humble awe as they deliver their weighty opinions. Often these are established figures, the big names who need to be at the conferences in order for them to be real New Calvinist conferences. Alongside of them are the rising stars of the upcoming generation.
You will hear names such as John Piper, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, Don Carson, Josh Harris, Wayne Grudem. On the websites and in the blogosphere names like Justin Taylor and Tim Challies are prominent. More on the fringes perhaps, and with a more ambivalent relationship, are men like R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur (they are referenced by the movement and have connections within it, but do not necessarily fit into the spectrum). When you enter the world of the New Calvinism these are the names that you will find in almost every place. For example, in the online realm you will find that the hundreds if not thousands of New Calvinistic blogs are rehashing the same videos, passing on the same references, locked in a potentially nepotistic world of self-reference.
This leads to at least two related dangers: the danger of mere imitation and the danger of unintended disconnection. Early in his life Andrew Fuller – who was to become a preeminent Particular Baptist theologian – discovered that the mark of a master plowman was to be able to plow a straight furrow across a field. Fuller assumed that such a standard could easily be achieved simply by laying your plow alongside an existing furrow created by a master and following it. Putting his theory to the test, he took a plow and went along the straight line of the master plowman. When he had finished he looked back to see that although there was a degree of straightness because of the model that he followed, he had also copied and exaggerated all the kinks in the master plowman’s furrow. Fuller vowed at that moment never to be an imitator. The danger of these figureheads is that, in the minds of some, they become celebrities and gurus. Slavishly following them, their disciples reproduce not only much of what is good but also exaggerate them at their points of weakness or aberration.
Furthermore, as we consider some of these followers we find that there is a disconnect between some of the men at the top of the hierarchy – men of profound mental and emotional depth, who seek to hold unusual things in tension in their thinking and practice – and those lower down the tree with, perhaps, lesser vision and capacity. A struggle follows, often issuing in a failure to hold those potentially fruitful or perhaps implicitly contradictory tensions. One or the other side must govern, leading to deviations from the doctrine and practice of the greater man by those of lesser magnitude. In other words, some of what is happens on the ground at grass-roots level can be very far and very unhealthily removed from what is being proposed and modeled at the top.
Thirdly, this is a movement marked by conglomeration. It is a movement of coalitions, of conferences, of networks, and of networks of networks, numbers of men and churches operating together. As mentioned before, this can seem a little introspective at times (not that they are the only ones guilty of that!): they all endorse one another’s books and DVDs, they all refer to one another’s blogs and videos. Together For The Gospel (T4G) and The Gospel Coalition (TGC) are two of the big overarching events or organizations that holding some of these things together. In addition, there are such groups as the Acts 29 network, Sovereign Grace Ministries, or the Resolved conference series. It is a broad and somewhat eclectic mix, reinforcing the idea of the spectrum and underlining the pursuit of a broad unity.
Fourthly and finally, it is a movement of consolidation. Since its beginning, I think it is discernibly evident that this river is broadening out and slowing down. At least one of its figureheads is very and vocally opposed to the notion of things slowing down. He says, in effect, “Things begin as missions, become movements, then museums and monuments . . . and we are on mission!” And yet it is already a movement, and such a change is of the nature of things; in part it is the process of maturation. The whole machine is slowing down. There is not the same buzz, the same energy, the same drive as once there was. The river is broader and it is slower. The enthusiasm has shifted slightly. I am not saying that there is any less vigor, but this is not the rushing mountain stream it once was, with the dynamism simply to carry things before it. Interestingly, one of the issues coming up more regularly is the idea of succession. Some of the father figures in the movement have sat around to be filmed in weighty monochrome talking about what is going to happen after they have moved on. I cannot be absolute, but there seems to be a slowing down and an awareness that we are entering a period of transition with regard to New Calvinism.
While this list of defining features is brief and broad and far from exhaustive, I trust that those familiar with the New Calvinism as a whole or with specific manifestations of it will be able to see some recognizable points of reference in this overview. Taking all these things about the New Calvinism into account, I want to offer first some commendations and then some cautions and concerns, engaging with these brothers as brothers, and as someone who has appreciated and learned from them in many ways.
 In recent days, John MacArthur has delivered a series of quite vigorous addresses to the ‘young, restless and reformed’ crowd, and several of his points were very poorly received, in the main, although some gave a more seasoned and dignified response.
I suppose one might suggest that the virtue on display is at least that of honesty. What is your religion? We all have one. Only one brings us to God and heaven.
HT: Heavenly Worldliness.
I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely stimulated by this interview. Paxo is on good form, and in Russell Brand he has an interviewee who, rather than revealing his hidden shallows, actually manages to uncover depths that I imagine many of us might never have imagined he has.
Now, to be sure, Mr Brand is deconstructing fame and celebrity and consumerism from a humanistic viewpoint, but it’s still a pretty brutal and intelligent desconstruction. It gets the more interesting toward the end when Mr Paxman begins to ask about sustaining his brightness, and Brand speaks of death, meaning, and substance in life. As this section develops, and Brand attests that fame is nothing but “ashes in my mouth,” I was powerfully reminded of Augustine’s dictum, that God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in him. How I would love to speak to Mr Brand and explain the good news to him! If God were pleased to save him, and take that insight, that passion, that intelligence, and sanctify it, we might have an Augustine for the 21st century. Now wouldn’t that be interesting?
Disclaimer: it is a pretty blunt interview at times, and some will find it crude at points, as they discuss some of Brand’s better-known misdemeanours, and how they are like and unlike other crudities and cruelties. I should also point out that I am not seeking to excuse the substance of Brand’s public persona and proclamations.
A few days ago my brother (the gifted, famous one!) blogged about a certain Wales vs. England rivalry that would surface from time to time in the Walker household. I was more rugby, he was more football; I was more Wales, he more England.
This was picked up by Radio 5 Live, who have invited him and – with much trepidation – allowed me on for a brief interview this morning, apparently due to air at about 0750 hours, at which point we shall be expected to renew the ancient rivalry live, right here, right now. Today’s European qualifier between Wales and England at the Millennium Stadium has apparently prompted this desire.
I am early awake after a busy day yesterday with the safe arrival of a daughter, Cerys Abigail (7lbs 7oz). I imagine that they will be asking which team she shall be encouraged to support. With the name Cerys, it may prove a foregone conclusion.
Feel free to listen in, or I will try and give a post-ruck link later.
Update: so they were running late, it lasted about one minute, I gibbered like a fool and my brother could not pronounce any words. And I was all ready to give them a few verses of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau! Link to follow of my first, and very likely only, foray into national radio.
Justin Taylor offers tips from an anonymous hacker on how to protect yourself online. They are worth reading.
Carl R. Trueman
Presbyterian & Reformed, 2010, 144pp., paperback, $9.99
Provocative, punchy and playfully perverse, Professor Trueman writes with gleeful awareness of his contrariness. This republocrat’s fundamental assertion is that theological conservatism and political conservatism do not necessarily walk together in lock-step, in the course of addressing which he turns his guns with deliberate abandon on both the left and (mainly) the right of the political spectrum (including the yoking of religion and patriotism, Fox News, Max Weber, and democracy itself). It is the literary equivalent of deliberately shooting fireworks from the hip: you will enjoy the delightful verbal pyrotechnics, but there may be little real damage done. It relies substantially on the perspective of a British immigrant, and will therefore be of most interest to American believers, although those looking in, and familiar with the more conservative Christian scene in the US, may find it less bewildering and more relevant. This is a volume that raises rather than addresses a variety of interesting issues, and asks some serious questions in a manner so playful as almost to undo itself. I imagine that you will have as much fun reading it as Trueman probably did writing it.
David Murray suggests that Christians should be ready to use the media to engage with the world:
Despite the usually negative context to media interest, despite their general hostility towards us, and despite their frequent misrepresentation of us, I’d like to encourage pastors (and other well-educated Christians) to engage more with the media, as opportunity arises. I’m afraid that if sane Christian voices remain silent, there’s no shortage of “Christian” ego-maniacs to fill the journalistic void.
Here are David’s suggestions for such engagement:
- Pick your targets.
- Ask for time.
- Keep your target in view.
- Get your facts right.
- Be respectful.
- Listen carefully to the question.
- Keep your most important answers short.
- Don’t insist on the last word.
- Learn from your mistakes.
- Love the journalist.
PS Smile more than normal on TV, and talk faster than usual on the radio.
I like Carl Trueman (not personally, not having met the chap, which is not to say I dislike him or wouldn’t like him, but . . . oh, whatever, you get the drift) because he cheerfully asks the questions that are too readily unasked in a society in which religion and culture are too readily conflated:
Finally, how many Christians would never turn out for a Sunday evening worship service because they had their fix on Sunday mornings, but would rearrange all manner of things to make sure they could see the Superbowl? Watching overpaid spandex-clad blimps playing catch, then running for, oh my, at least 5 seconds and six yards before taking a five minute breather, and as a result trousering too much dosh — or meeting with the living God who gave his Son for us, hearing his word proclaimed, and humbly bowing before him in adoration — not much of a choice is it, really? The spandex and hilarious commercials win every time.
Read it all (and read over his evident distaste for the sport itself to the very real point that he is making, which – it should be pointed out – holds good for any number of sporting events in the UK, and indeed across the globe). The point is not that there should be no Superbowl – that’s a different argument, or should be; the point is where our priorities lie as believers.
In similarly pointed vein, may I also introduce Mr Martin Downes (although it is worth pointing out that a lot of conferences in the UK seem to think that they can share the coolness by buying in to the same limited line-up)?
Good questions, gentlemen.
Attributed to Petronius:
We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up in teams, we would be re-organised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by re-organising . . . and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation.
Lessons for churches here?