The Wanderer

"As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . ."

Posts Tagged ‘Mark Driscoll

Real marriage?

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The spring edition of The Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has a well-grounded and thorough critique of Mark & Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage. It is worth reading, especially if you have not yet read the book and are considering doing so.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 21 April 2012 at 15:52

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Dispatches from Blighty: the Don and Driscoll

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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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 31 January 2012 at 19:47

Knowing your place

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After being reminded of Taylor's advice, Mr Hyde receded and Pastor Jekyll was restored.

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.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 January 2012 at 09:25

The new Calvinism considered

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Note: for those interested in a more developed treatment of this same issue, you can find it beginning here.

A year or two ago it seemed that ‘the new Calvinism’ was all the rage.  Perhaps it has already reached and passed its peak.  Maybe the mission has already become a movement and will shortly become a museum.  Only time will tell.  Certainly the wild rush of the past few years has slowed a little; the river seems broader and flows more gently.  Consolidation has occurred around such organisations as the Gospel Coalition and there are nexuses (nexi?) like Together for the Gospel (T4G) and Acts 29 that also function as anchor points.  Not so long ago you could not read a book, website or news article in some Christian circles without coming up against one of a range of personalities.  The new orthodoxy needed one of a string of names to back it up: “Piper/Grudem/Carson says . . .” almost became the equivalent in some circles of, “The Holy Spirit told me . . .”  It seemed as if the new Calvinism was sweeping the board.  More conservative evangelicals felt the pressure, often ‘losing’ their young people to the heady atmosphere of the new movement.  There was a certain triumphalism in some quarters, a sense of having seen the working future.  In others, there was a sometimes uninhibited aggression.  However, there seemed to be little middle ground: you were either for or against, a committed friend or a committed foe.

I tried to understand what was taking place by immersing myself in the stream for a while: I read the books and the blogs and listened to the sermons and addresses.  I hoped that I got a fair and accurate understanding of this movement.  I found things that were attractive and stimulating and provocative and controversial and worrying.

At a little distance from the swirling storm of popularity and controversy, I recently saw a very brief list of those things which characterise the new Calvinism, written very much from within the movement.  Looking at that list, I thought, “Yes, but . . .” and began to sketch out some other qualities that, it seems to me, are embedded in the mass of new Calvinistic identity.  The list got reasonably long in the end, but I thought that I would work it up and put it out.  It may prove useful, or interesting, or controversial, or pointless.  I think that some new Calvinists would acknowledge and admit much of what follows, sometimes quite cheerfully, but not always.  They might not agree with all the labels I use, or with my own stance on them, but I have set out to be fair and accurate.

Some caveats: I have attempted not to identify and discuss individuals (except where obvious and necessary, and for occasional examples) because this is not about supporting or attacking any one individual.  I also recognise that there are exceptions to most if not all of these rules, hence the introductory wording to each suggestion: I am not trying to make out that the movement is more monolithic than is in fact the case.  Furthermore, I have not attempted to distinguish between the positive and the negative (which will differ depending on where you stand anyway!) but have rather lumped them all in together.  I have not attempted to list these characteristics in order of priority or significance.

That will probably do by way of introduction.  So, then . . .

1.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a desire for the glory of God.  In this sense, I do not think one can legitimately deny that this is a Reformed resurgence.  There is an evident, open, sincere aim at the glory of God in all things, and I think that God is much glorified in many ways by the words and works of many of my new Calvinist brothers and sisters, and I rejoice at it.

2.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by deep-rooted spiritual joy.  This may be one of the reasons why it is so attractive to so many, perhaps especially to those from more conservative Reformed circles who feel that this is one of the things that has been lacking in their spiritual experience.  It flows, no doubt, in large part from the emphasis on the grace of God (see below) and it may flow into some of its more exuberant expressions of worship.  Again, the public face of the new Calvinism is one in which men and women with their hearts made clean through the blood of the Lamb rejoice in their so-great salvation.

3.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by missonal zeal.  As with any vibrant gospel movement, the desire to take the good news into all the world is central.  Evangelising.  Witnessing to Christ.  Church strengthening.  Church planting.  Church rejuvenation.  Training pastors and preachers.  There is a Scriptural readiness to overcome or ignore the boundaries too readily established in the mind and the heart and to preach the gospel to every creature, and to use as many means as possible (although the Biblical legitimacy of some might be questioned) to promote the truth, propagate the gospel, and advance the kingdom of Christ Jesus.  As the movement has advanced, neither the local nor the international elements of this have been left behind.

4.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an emphasis on the gospel of grace and the grace of the gospel.  Everything is ‘gospel’: New Calvinists do ‘gospel-this’ and ‘gospel-centred that’ and ‘gospel-cored the other’, sometimes to the point of inanity.  By that, I do not mean that the gospel ought not to be at the heart of things, but if we are genuinely evangelical then by definition the gospel should be at the heart of things, and the tendency to badge everything with the word ‘gospel’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is gospel-soaked and gospel-centred, nor does it guarantee that it will be.  That aside, this is a movement that desires to preach the good news as good news, to proclaim the free and undeserved favour of God to sinners in a way that is engaging, fresh, real and powerful.  One of the great anathemas of new Calvinism is legalism.  Whether or not this is rightly or fully understood I will not argue here, but these friends are desperate to highlight and declare the primacy of grace.  Of course, this is intimately related to the joy they feel and the glory of God they pursue.

5.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by complementarianism.  We are told by these friends to distinguish between the theological equivalents of national boundaries and state boundaries, to appreciate the different between distinction and division.  At the same time, it appears that complementarianism is one of the new Calvinist shibboleths.  That does not mean it is wrong, of course, but it is interesting that of all the things that we are told do not matter in the consideration of unity and separation, complementarianism has become something of a sine qua non.

6.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a return to a more Biblical masculinity.  One could argue that at times this has almost become a caricature (and I would agree, and it has indeed been parodied and caricatured), but it is a welcome if sometimes extreme reaction to the anaemic and limp manhood too often displayed elsewhere in the nominally or actually Christian world.  Alongside and arising from the complementarianism, dignified and vigorous male leadership has received a welcome fillip from the new Calvinism.  Like many gospel movements of the past, this one has been characterised in many respects by the salvation of men (often young men), the calling of men to preach, and a readiness by men to take the brunt and lead from the front.  This is not to say that women are excluded from the movement, but the Scriptural emphasis on male leadership has seen a welcome return.

7.         Again related to complementarianism, it seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the promotion of the family as a basic unit of church and social life.  Once again, such an emphasis can easily become an over-emphasis, but the evident loving affection for wives and sons and daughters that is characteristic of many of the leaders of the movement is an excellent testimony.  The re-establishment of the God-ordained family unit, the outworking of masculinity and femininity in the family sphere, an encouragement to family worship, a readiness to discuss and instruct concerning relationships between men and women, single and married, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and children, and the like, is often part and parcel of new Calvinism.

8.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by charismatic convictions with regard to spiritual gifts.  It seems as if the nature, extent and degree of the Spirit’s work in what some would say we cannot call post-apostolic times has become almost a moot point in new Calvinism.  What was for so long a genuine line of divide between Christians has seemed to be smoothed over with the rise of the so-called ‘Reformed Charismatic’, a label willingly embraced by many if not all of the leaders of new Calvinism, most of whom would be happy – to various degrees and in different ways – to acknowledge themselves to be continuationists, as the lingo has it.  Interestingly, this is one of the fault lines that seems likely to become apparent again, not least because of its significance.

9.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Calvinist soteriology, with some departures and aberrations.  Again, here is one of the areas where the claim to the name ‘Reformed’ is at stake and much debated.  Generally speaking, in line with the emphasis on the gospel of grace and the glory of God in salvation there has been a distinctively Calvinist take on this issue, and it is here – probably more than anywhere else – that the movement derives the ‘Calvinist’ part of its name.  At the same time, there is – in many of those who are at the forefront of this group – more than a hint of Amyraldism, so I am not sure to what extent this is going to hold water for long.  You will also note that I identify Calvinist soteriology as apart from other elements of historic Calvinism, many of which I think one could argue have been neglected, ignored, or abandoned by new Calvinists.

10.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a generally thoughtful ecumenism.  You only need to look at or think about the names that are at or clustering about the centre to see how broad a movement this is.  It has genuinely united Christians from a variety of backgrounds, and garnered sympathy from many who would nevertheless be unable to share all the distinctives of the movement as a whole.  Issues such as baptism, ecclesiology, the spiritual gifts, and worship have – to some extent – not been allowed to prevent the coming together of believers to serve God either in community or at the very least in co-operation.  Interestingly, though, this ecumenism seems to reach over the middle ground.  By this I mean that there is a readiness to receive and relate to (and receive critique and input from) those close to the inner core of the movement, and then a readiness to reach quite far out from that core for critique and input and relationship, leaving those in the middle ground somewhat isolated.  So, for example, consider the speaking list at some of the last few Desiring God conferences: where else would you find Piper, Dever, Driscoll, Warren, Wilson, Keller, Baucham, MacArthur, Sproul, Storms and Ferguson.  At points on that list you are moved to cheer.  At others, a very Scooby-Dooish cry of “Yoicks!” – mingled alarm and distress – rises from the lips.

11.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an often pragmatic ecclesiology.  I am glad that it is characterised by ecclesiology at all, that the church of Jesus Christ is in many respects given its rightful place in his plans and purposes for the kingdom.  At the same time, there is often more of the light of nature than the light of Scripture in some of the decisions that seem to be made.  This, then, is a movement in which statistics matter.  This is a movement in which, if you cannot keep up, you have to drop off.  Are you in the way of progress?  Then you are fired.  We are moving onward and upward, so we will hire a worship pastor used to larger crowds or able to generate them; we will hire a technology deacon to take our presentations within and without the services to a new level.  Are you not willing or able to move this fast?  Then goodbye, because you are holding up the advance.  Multi-campus doctrine is one of the examples of this pragmatism; branding and advertising are given a prominence beyond anything the Scripture provides for.  Everything is made to serve the growth of the church numerically and the advance of the mission as stated by the church.  At times the church seems less and less like an organic whole in which every member has her or his part and more like a business in which the chief executive and his team get to hire and fire at will, moulding the structure and its activity according to human will and purpose.  If the church were a business, would I fire some of her workers?  Sure.  But it is not, and I am not at liberty to decide who I want or do not want in or working for the advance of a kingdom that belongs to and is ruled by a sovereign King.  I should, however, add – in fairness – that perhaps at times others outside the movement have not been pragmatic enough, or dynamic enough, in seizing opportunities for gospel advance and employing means about which the Scriptures are silent (this comment is not about the regulative principle, by the way).  By the way, you have to love the names of the churches: all portentous, bastardised Greek or catchy, thrusting urban vim?  Fantastic!

12.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a neo-Kuyperian view of culture.  Here the mantra is that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”  There is much to be said for such a declaration, but it also needs to be read in terms of the already/not yet dichotomy.  In new Calvinist orthodoxy, it seems to be very much ‘already’ and this often means that culture is considered neutral, and all to be claimed for Jesus.  By extension, nothing seems to be out of bounds, and much that the world says and does can be tidied up, baptised, and brought into the service of Christ’s church.  Of course, it tends to be the culture from which the converts are drawn (see below) that comes into the church, and so we get our reference points and illustrations from all the hip and cool sources, or those made trendy by the movers and shakers.  Star Wars?  Check.  Lord of the Rings?  Check.  The Matrix?  Check.  So we get to be all funky and populist.  Then we get to name check Lewis and Chesterton and Dostoevsky and O’Connor and come over all literary and high-brow.  By and large, the new Calvinism seems ready to co-opt, co-operate with, and/or capture this culture now, without always making assessments about the origin, tendency and direction of particular elements.  Under this heading I am willing to place the whole issue of contextualization, although it might be considered worthy of its own heading.

13.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by doctrinal if not practical antinomianism.  Most of the movers and shakers appear ready to align themselves with New Covenant Theology in some form or other.  As so often, the Lord’s day Sabbath is the first point of contact and conflict on this issue.  However, the default position here, as – I believe – across broad evangelicalism as a whole – is that the moral law has no abiding relevance in the life of the new covenant believer.  That assumption is woven throughout many of the key texts and declarations of the new Calvinism, from the ESV Study Bible downwards (for example, consider these comments in the ESVSB on Romans 14.5: “The weak thought some days were more important than others. Given the Jewish background here (see v. 14), the day that is supremely in view is certainly the Sabbath. The strong think every day is the same. Both views are permissible. Each person must follow his own conscience. What is remarkable is that the Sabbath is no longer a binding commitment for Paul but a matter of one’s personal conviction. Unlike the other nine commandments in Ex. 20:1–17, the Sabbath commandment seems to have been part of the “ceremonial laws” of the Mosaic covenant, like the dietary laws and the laws about sacrifices, all of which are no longer binding on new covenant believers (see also Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16–17). However, it is still wise to take regular times of rest from work, and regular times of worship are commanded for Christians (Heb. 10:24–25; cf. Acts 20:7)”).  This is having and will continue to have implications perhaps not so much in the sphere of justification (though that will follow) as in the sphere of sanctification.  It is going to mean much for the development of true holiness, and it is only in the next two or three generations of the new Calvinists that these chickens will come home to roost.  Key names among the new Calvinists have laid the foundation for this widespread antinomianism, and it is for me one of the most concerning aspects of the whole movement.

14.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by contemporary worship.  By definition, all of the service ought to be worship, and by definition, anything done today is contemporary, however old-fashioned or new-fangled it may be considered, but you know what I mean.  I personally have no difficulty with songs and music written in the present day, but that is not the same as a willingness simply to co-opt the forms and patterns of the entertainment of the world for the worship of the church.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the sung worship of the church.  Into the mix here also come the charismatic and cultural convictions of many of the key figures.

15.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the driving force of several key personalities.  You know them: there is a centre circle reasonably well-defined, and then the concentric circles around them together and individually.  Piper.  Carson.  Mahaney.  Dever.  Mohler.  Driscoll.  Keller.  Grudem.  Chandler.  Anyabwile.  Harris.  DeYoung.  Chan.  Perhaps a little further out are Duncan and MacArthur and Sproul and Trueman.  Among the bloggers, Challies and Taylor and others.  Read long enough and widely enough and the same names will crop up time and time again.  You might place them more or less close to the centre, but they will be there or thereabouts.  My apologies to those who ought to be on the list and are not, and to the groupies who are now offended because I did not put their idol on the list.  Here you see more than a little of that ecumenism mentioned before.  No new Calvinist conference is complete without at least one and ideally more of these men on the platform.  Each is a little chief in the centre of his fiefdom, many of which overlap.  Of course, it can all seem a little nepotistic, even incestuous at times, as these figures read, invite, commend, and endorse one another in ever-decreasing circles.  Again, God usually works by men in the world, and those men naturally attain to a right and reasonable prominence, but the concentration on a few key personalities, especially in the early days of the movement, was distinctive.  Of course, some of those names are already second-generation names, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

16.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the ready embrace and employment of new technologies and media and the platforms that they provide.  The new Calvinism is, to a large degree, an internet phenomenon.  Sermons, videos, blogs, other social media, swirl around ceaselessly in this milieu.  The exchange and discussion of ideas takes place largely online.  Conferences are broadcast and live-blogged, and the lines and colours are laid down by a thousand artists simultaneously, often painting on the same canvas.  Cross-reference and self-reference generate a stupendous amount of traffic.  Look at some of the key blogs, for example, and you will find that they all tend to highlight the same books, events, people and things at almost precisely the same time.  All these platforms nevertheless provide a potent thrust for new Calvinist dogma and praxis, and where others are left behind, the new Calvinism is often at the cutting edge, adopting and co-opting the latest technology (hardware and software) in order to promote either Christ or his servants, depending on your take on particular individuals and circles.  Of course, we must state here that no self-respecting new Calvinist would be found dead using a PC.  The Apple Macintosh and its related accessories are the technological sine qua non of the true new Calvinist.  (I deleted the next bit because it counted as mockery, but let’s just say that it went in the direction of cool glasses and coffee shops, tattoos and T-shirts.)

17.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a concentration on a younger, more urban demographic.  I recall one new Calvinist church-planting leader voicing his concern at how many church-planter/ing applications he saw targeted precisely the same group as all the others: the young, trendy, hip (when did this admittedly serviceable but not especially remarkable joint become so popular?), urban crowd.  Although some of its leaders are getting old enough to be in them, you will not find much of the new Calvinism catering to the full range of society.  It tends to be quite selective.  I know of a number of churches that – when they began going in this direction – did begin to attract far larger numbers of a certain type and age, but they also began to lose many others.  Again, you can only ride the crest of the wave for so long: what happens to the water ahead, and the waves coming in behind?  This is one area where the willingness to preach the gospel to every creature perhaps needs to take account of the fact that every creature doesn’t like the same fashion, music, art, style, clothes, and approach as those who have made new Calvinism what it is.

18.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the desire to be big and to have a seat at culture’s table.  Bigness does seem to be a great concern for many.  Bigness – size and numbers – as a by-product of the pursuit of right things in a right way and for the glory of God is perfectly acceptable, but bigness as an end in itself is not something that the Bible promotes in isolation.  Alongside of this goes what sometimes looks like an obsession with being accepted and heard in wider society.  Consider the orgiastic and ecstatic applause and self-congratulation when the big names get on national television, or when the movement gets name-checked by Time magazine.  Is there a danger here that the movement is too concerned with the applause and adulation and recognition of the world?  Does this tie in with the attitude to culture, and what may be a failure to recognise that in this present evil age we are strangers in a strange land?

19.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an ambivalent relationship to church history.  I know we all tend to pick and choose the bits that appear or tend to support what we now believe, but it is right there on the surface of the new Calvinist vehicle.  Sometimes there is what I can only call a chronological snobbery.  This is not meant to sound as pejorative as it does.  It is part of the laudable enthusiasm of the movement.  What I mean is that there is a freshness of discovery that excites us: we feel, if I may work through Wodehouse back to Keats,

. . . like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

However, just because I have recently discovered some theological gem does not mean that it has never been discovered before, or that I therefore become the sole guardian and interpreter of the tradition.  There may be a whole bunch of trekker’s rubbish upon that peak in Darien from those who have been and camped before.  Neither does the popularity or promotion of our discovery entitle us to be the arbiters of the canon.  Anyway, there is a tendency among new Calvinists either to claim that ground long-broken has been only recently broken by them, or that it has never been broken before and now needs to be broken by them, or because they have broken it no one else is allowed to set foot on it, or that there is no other way of it being broken.  In this way, the great and the good of the past all become proto-new Calvinists.  Take a bow, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Cowper, Calvin, Lewis, Owen, Augustine, etc. etc.  Of course, all this demands quite a bit of historical revision, of which there is perhaps no finer example than C. S. Lewis, one of the new Calvinism’s patron saints.  I am not suggesting that these intelligent and well-read men are not aware of it, but at least let us not pretend nor give the impression that Lewis fits seamlessly into the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy!

20.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by sensitivity to the judicial and social aspects of the gospel at work in society.  Perhaps in part because there is a left-wing as well as right-wing political input to new Calvinism, it is nevertheless a recovery of emphasis on the God who defends and protects the widow and the fatherless and the stranger, who is concerned for righteousness and justice in heaven and on earth, who takes note of the presence or absence of ethical integrity in the thoughts, words and deeds of men.  Of course, this is very easily dismissed as politically correct or touchy-feely nonsense, but there is, perhaps, more of it in the Scriptures than others have always been ready to admit.  So, on such matters as abortion, adoption, euthanasia, care for the poor and hungry, help for the homeless, and so on, there is a welcome re-engagement and re-appraisal.  Confusion still exists (as, no doubt, it always will) about the relative roles of the church and the individual Christian citizen or subject (two kingdoms theology, anyone?), but there is an awareness of and sensitivity to these issues that is welcome.

21.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Americocentrism.  Here let me bother with another caveat: this is not an instance of cultural jealousy or bitterness, nor is it in and of itself intended as a condemnation.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and of course the movement spills over, especially into the UK and Australia, where the linguistic heritage is shared (so perhaps I should speak more of ‘the West’ that I do of ‘the States’, although I think it is fair to say that America is probably the dominant Western culture, having more influence on others in the West than they have on it).  However, while there are adherents, some of them prominent, outside the USA, the movement has its spiritual and cultural home in the States.  Could this be where some of its cultural distinctive and pragmatic attitudes derive?  Is this part of the reason for its determination and enthusiasm and can-do mentality?  Is this driving the concentration on technology and the referents and foci of the movement?  Time after time we hear men and women happily cradled in the bosom of American/Western culture assure us that the future of the church is in the so-called Third or Developing World.  Is new Calvinism in danger of exporting more of America/the West than it is of Jesus?  By definition, we are to some extent products of our culture, and that is part of God’s sovereign design for our sphere of influence and usefulness.  But could it be that there is sometimes a lack of cultural awareness and a degree of cultural supremacism that penetrates new Calvinism further than we are aware?  This, I acknowledge, is nebulous, easy both to defend and attack precisely because it is so hard to quantify, but it seems to me that this is an inherently Western movement, if not an inherently American one, a movement very much of a certain time and place.  That does not make it inherently bad, but it certainly does call into the question the degree to which it can both last and spread beyond its immediate environs.

At this point, I see no reason to change the assessment I made several months ago, after reading Collin Hansen’s survey of the movement, although I hope I have a better grasp on the whole: “There is much that is splendid about the movement . . . but it contains within it some fascinating and fearful tensions, as well as some wonderful prospects.  Much depends on the legacy of the present leaders, and the readiness of those who follow to pursue a comprehensive Scripturalism that will govern head and heart and hands. . . . observers and participants [need] to gauge both the trajectory and the likely terminus of this curious company, but [they] should also challenge us about the extent to which our faith and our life are keeping pace.”

So there you have it.  Do you agree or disagree?  Is there anything to add or remove?  I should be interested to know what you have to say.

I like dead guys

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Dave Bish highlights a  fairly interesting comment/complaint from Phil Whitall:

I read this morning that Josh Harris is a fan of JC Ryle, which in itself is hardly something to get upset about but it did spark this mini-rant. Good for Josh, Ryle is a worthy hero of the faith. But it seems to me that the Yanks get all excited by CS Lewis, CH Spurgeon, JC Ryle, CT Studd and other guys with initials instead of first names. Lewis and Spurgeon in particular are highly exalted, oh and Dr MLJ of course.

On the other hand, if you pay close attention to the names that are bandied around amongst us Limey’s are John Piper, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Tim Keller, Rob Bell and whoever else is leading some very large church.

What you don’t seem to find are Brits talking about dead American Christians of any note and any Americans talking about living Brits of any note (our churches are too small).

The whole thing is fascinating and completely unsubstantiated and has the ring of truth about it (everyone should get hold of this piece of jewellery – useful in so many situations).  You should read it all, not least so that you can argue with it.

Because I beg to differ to a degree.  It depends to whom you are listening.  Yes, most of us – sometimes of necessity – interact with the Pipers, Mahaneys, Driscolls, Mohlers, etc. of the evangelical hypersphere.  Our peers and sometimes the wider church is reading them, listening to them, concerned about them, aping them.  I do think it is often the desire to find what works, to discover what will make us (read, “me”) big and successful.  But there is an undercurrent of men and women who have not entirely abandoned those who have gone before us on these shores.

You will find us quoting, at least occasionally, Charles Spurgeon, John Ryle, Matthew Henry, Robert McCheyne, John Owen, Jeremiah Burroughs, Stephen Charnock, Thomas Brooks, Hugh Latimer, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, John Bunyan, not to mention Flavel, Knox, Traill, Eadie . . . I could go on, and I could come forward to men like Poole-Connor and Lloyd-Jones, and back as far as some of the church fathers.  We love those men who have followed Christ, and whom we now follow in the path of Christian discipleship.  We have not forgotten their lives and their lessons, and – in fact – we sometimes get a little bit troubled at the selective embrace offered by some of our American brothers.  Who knew C. S. Lewis was Reformed until he was co-opted by the New Calvinists and given a fairly robust air-brushing in the process?

If we’re going to make C. S. Lewis our patron saint, we should at least listen when he is talking sense.  This is from the introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation:

Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (”mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

If we followed Lewis here, perhaps we would have a little more discretion and discernment in how far we follow others, and which others we follow, and how slavishly?  In fact, when we listen too long and too hard to the old, sometimes the new get a bit annoyed with us, and accuse us of being crusty, hidebound, and reactionary.  Funny, that.

Samuel Davies (American, but with Welsh roots and long dead, so not a bad note to finish on), wrote a few lines that still decorate my study.  They are worth recalling:

I have a peaceful study, as a refuge from the hurries and noise of the world around me; the venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me, and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals.

So, Phil, come hang out with us.  We hang out with the venerable dead, often British, although if they followed hard after Jesus we’re happy to see them sitting on our shelves wherever they hail from.  We listen to them, learn from them, engage with them, debate and even argue with them.  We converse across the years, and enjoy the relief they afford us from the nonsense of surviving mortals.

We like dead guys.

Mark Driscoll: wisdom and balance

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A friend forwarded me a link to this post by Chris Anderson, giving some insightful and balanced thoughts on the Driscoll phenomenon.  If you have wrestled with any of the issues associated with Mark as man and minister, and found yourself having a “On the one hand . . . on the other hand . . .” conversation with yourself or others, this might help you see through some of the fog.

For more hopefully not-entirely-foggy thoughts on Mark Driscoll, see here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 28 May 2009 at 13:17

Posted in While wandering . . .

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The rape of the Song of Songs

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John MacArthur has been addressing a certain interpretation of the Song of Solomon that has been prominent in recent weeks.  Mark Driscoll features prominently in his critique.  It is an honest and helpful response to some of the excesses not only of Driscoll’s treatment, but also of the apparent explosion of such treatments over recent months.  MacArthur also addresses some of the critiques of his critique that have circulated.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 17 April 2009 at 13:13

“Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods”

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Vintage Church: Timeless Truths and Timely Methods by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Crossway, 2008 (335pp, hbk)

Reading this book reminds me of one of the particular things I appreciate about Mark Driscoll.  Never backward in coming forward, it is generally clear what Mark – the primary author of this book – believes, and usually so is the basis on which he believes it.  In common with many others, I do not always agree with his conclusions.  Nevertheless, the value of clearly-stated convictions is that one knows when and how much to agree or disagree.  Unlike so many of their contemporaries, one is not left beating at the air when reading Driscoll & Breshears.  I enjoy this upfront honesty.  One may disagree with the Driscoll principles or practice or both, but there is also an integrity in Mark’s outworking of his principles in practice, and that again is rare and welcome.

vintage-church-driscoll-breshearsIt is also a delight to see the doctrine of the church being firmly established, especially in an age in which “doing church” seems to be a free-for-all, an unholy pick’n’mix in which the individual reigns supreme and the truth of God is discarded or received on the whim of the moment or the church is made in man’s image.  Detail aside, hurrah and huzzah for someone of Mark’s stature planting his flag in this regard.  Books like this – alongside other efforts and emphases like 9Marks – do much to turn the mind of the church in a healthy direction.

There is much that will be familiar to Driscoll aficionados as well as those who frequently come across his sermons, writings, or fans.  The missional emphasis is front and centre, woven into the opening chapters on the Christian life and the Christian church, and with a later chapter all of its own.  The authors are keenly aware of the general ignorance that prevails with regard to the identity, purpose and life of Christ’s church in many genuinely Christian circles.  In these early chapters they offer a cheap and cheerful overview of various attitudes and approaches to this issue.  It will undoubtedly infuriate (for what is left out or skated over or misrepresented) as many as it instructs.

The teaching on church leadership rightly identifies male eldership as a sine qua non, although Driscoll’s complementarianism extends to women deacons.  Helpfully, the role of those too often dismissed as ‘ordinary members’ is also made positively plain.  There is a helpful chapter on the importance of preaching, almost a mini-pastoral theology by Driscoll on the topic.  Again, a few casual statements are easy to identify (e.g. expository preaching is not simply and only verse-by-verse teaching), but there are plenty of helps and challenges, especially in the practical section.  The treatment of the sacraments comes next.  Driscoll is an unashamed credobaptist, and by no means a sacramentalist at this point.  His take on the Lord’s supper traces out five meals – forbidden fruit, Passover, the Last Supper, Communion, and the heavenly wedding feast – and is Calvinian rather than Zwinglian.  (As I understand it, Mars Hill is happy to baptise people at the moment of their profession, and communion is celebrated weekly in the services, but also seems to be observed in house groups: clearly there questions that could be quickly raised here).

Chapters on unity, discipline and love follow, and it is refreshing to find a robust and thorough treatment of both the formative and corrective and restorative discipline in this book.  The list of issues identified in Scripture for which some form of pastoral response is considered necessary will act as a wake-up call to many believers in more traditionally Reformed and/or evangelical churches about the seriousness of pursuing holiness and shunning sin.  The chapter on love is a smorgasbord, with lots of suggestions for fomenting true fellowship given.  Interestingly, one of these is observance of the Sabbath.  Again, while Mark’s is not a typically Puritan take on the matter, it is at least a relief to see a man of this profile calling for the day to be set aside to God.

The chapter on missional church tries to straddle the gap between contextualization while remaining countercultural.  Again, there is a lot here that is simple and practical, and much which ought to be assumed in any church that imagines itself genuinely evangelical.  Some of these emphases are picked up in the final chapter on transforming the world, which is where Driscoll’s model of a city within a city – with all that means for being upstream, and therefore generating the cultural current, rather than floating on it, and with what that means for urban church planting – gets its big airing.

However, before we get there, there are two fairly contentious chapters on multi-campus church and technology in church.  Mercifully, Mark avoids – and conscientiously stands against – the casual ‘internet church’ notion.  The Leadership Network supply a lot of the data and modelling that lie behind this chapter, but it is a powerful plea for multi-site church.  I think there is a degree of confusion here: by distinguishing between a spiritual “air war” and “ground war,” a rationale is developed for a high-level strategic ministry (usually vodcast, often in real time) to a number of campuses where the tactical efforts are taking place. We are assured that multi-site is the way forward, as smaller, struggling churches come under the preaching umbrella of a particular church or man, while continuing to undertake pastoral labour and pursue fellowship primarily on the smaller scale.  There seems to be a ‘have your cake and eat it’ mentality at work.  Although “we repudiate the idea that a group of people can gather to watch a sermon on a screen and call it church” (252) there is nevertheless an uneasy balance between the identity of each campus as almost-a-church-in-its-own-right-but-not-quite (with property, personnel, congregation, style of worship and the regular conduct of ‘family business’) and the fact that they all hear fundamentally the same sermons at slightly different times in any given week.  What are these gatherings?  Are they one church?  Many churches?  If they have their own pastors, why are those men not preaching to them each Lord’s day?  There is a fishy distinction between preaching and pastoring (grounded, it seems, in the triperspectivalism that seems to govern pastoral division of labour in many Acts 29 churches i.e. the distinction between prophetic, priestly, and kingly ministry).  For a “charismatic wearing a seatbelt,” it is curious that Mark seems to overlook the Spiritual dynamics of being gathered together in one place (e.g. Acts 2.1; 1Cor 11.18) at this point.  The best technology cannot compensate for the eyeballs of the preacher and of the congregation locked into each other as God works simultaneously along the axes of his relationship with the preacher and with the congregation as their humanities interplay with one another in the powerful reality of Spirit-filled preaching and hearing.  I find no Scriptural evidence that this can be fully replicated by the employment of technology.

That brings us to the following chapter on technology itself, in which – based on a breakneck hurtle through history (20 centuries in four pages!) – we are given some essentially pragmatic suggestions that sound like they might have come from a marketing course on how to maximise your impact by means of technology.  There is no doubt that the aim is to encourage the use of technology to bring glory to God, but there is lots of human counsel and not much divine foundation in evidence.

The whole volume closes with an appendix containing the Mars Hill Church Member Covenant, a document that will surprise (and probably trouble) many as much for what it includes as for what is omitted.  For example, confessional churches will quibble at what they believe to be an insufficient statement of doctrine, while the rampant individualist will bridle at the obligations stated for members.

Where does all this leave us?  It leaves us with a very stimulating book.

mark-driscoll-2Part of me would love to sit down and knock many of the issues in the book back and forth with Mark or someone of similar perspective and character, pushing and being pushed on vital issues.  I willingly applaud a man who takes his ecclesiology seriously and seeks to do it Scripturally, even if I disagree on several significant points.  Mark’s writing demands engagement and response from the intelligent reader.

That said, I would not want the very general overview above to give the impression that I am satisfied with all the details and nuances of Mark’s treatment, much as I appreciate a lot of the broad brushwork.

I have a few more deep-rooted concerns.  As one would expect from the pastor of a large church, Mark sometimes assumes bigness, and that is fair enough.  What is slightly more discomfiting (and I hope I do not say this with the jealous or dismissive sneer of a small-church pastor) is the underlying suggestion that big is best and most beautiful.  I am not sure whether or not that is simply the overflow of a capitalistic or consumer culture, or related to the idea that “reaching the most people for Jesus” demands bigness as a specific aim, but I am not persuaded that this is a justified assumption, even while I long to see more people being saved and added to the church.  This also plays in to the question of why you cannot have a multitude of smaller churches rather than one multi-site monster.

And so to the matter of pragmatism.  I am sure that Mark and others would call it a principled pragmatism (I still need that satisfactorily defined and explained, for one needs to know in every instance in which it is used the principles that govern the pragmatism which almost by definition is willing to override principle in order to accomplish its goal).  Mark sometimes seems to go looking for principles to justify his practice, finding them where he will in Scripture and history; it may be that – given the speed at which things have happened in Seattle – Mark has sometimes had to work up, at speed, a principle that fits what has been thrust upon him and his fellow-elders.  Under such circumstances, it is doubtlessly easy to validate what is, especially if it is adding to your bigness.

Joined with this seems to be a somewhat reactionary habit.  Often we read that Mark has seen or experienced this or that and the other, and it was bad (and in many instances it was undoubtedly so), but often the assumption seems to be that, because one extreme on the spectrum was bad, the safest place is the opposite end of the spectrum.  Such a radical view often carries men past the Scriptural point of righteousness (not simply the middle point on the spectrum) in which, under a holy tension, different principles meet and are worked out.

Mark’s tendency to absolutise is very refreshing when you agree, and very frustrating when you do not, or when you wish to see a more finely-nuanced or theologically- or historically-aware argument.  For example, some of the theological and historical sketches and summaries are painfully naive or shallow or unbalanced at points, but couched in such a way as to demonstrate or support the point that Driscoll is making.  That’s his prerogative – it’s his book, after all – but some of those conclusions are open to significant debate.

Finally, we are assured more than once that churches are messy, because change is messy and mission is messy and people are messy.  I think I understand and appreciate the point, and I may even have used the vocabulary, but I am not a fan of the terminology (even if I cannot readily think of an alternative).  I appreciate that too many churches are overly-obsessed with being ‘neat’ and keeping everything under control, demanding the absence of everything that upsets their cherished notion of perfection without allowing for the radical, uneven, sometimes profoundly uncomfortable process of individual and corporate sanctification that we often see in Scripture.  This pursuit of perfection is only accomplished when things are increasingly static: the last thing you want is new believers with all their baggage coming in at the bottom of the chain and messing up the smooth upward trajectory.  At the same time, the language of messiness is too easily abused and made an excuse for not pursuing a more complete obedience to God’s revealed will.  It was, after all, to one of the messiest churches of the New Testament period that God said, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1Cor 14.40) (and, yes, the apostle said that primarily of worship, but I think that there is a wider principle at work, because God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints).  The mess is not a reason to rejoice, even when we recognise it and embrace it as a necessary part of church life as imperfect sinners rub up against among other imperfect sinners in a world tainted by sin.  I get the point, but perhaps it is better to speak of the church as God’s unfinished business, and not imply that mess is the goal, even though it may be the norm.

It is important to recognise that for many up-and-coming young pastors, this may very well be the first and perhaps only ecclesiological textbook they take, swayed by Mark’s powerful personality, effective ministry, and winsome style.  Relying only on this volume would be an error on their part, but it is a possibility that we must recognise.  Vintage Church is by no means the sole textbook that I would take for ecclesiology, even while I appreciate that there are many worse.  It does have a place on the shelf, not least because of its vigorous interaction with cherished or discarded notions, and its currency in dealing with issues all the rage in the wider evangelical sphere.  There is much in it with which I wholeheartedly agree.  It reminds us of many of the first things that are often lost among the minutiae of closely-argued and finely-detailed ecclesiological debates.  Nevertheless, my aim would be not simply to pick and choose – as I think Mark sometimes does when seeking to prove his own assumptions – but to compare Mark’s book with other similar volumes addressing similar issues, comparing all those sources with Scripture, and seeking prayerfully to discern the mind of the Spirit with regard to these things.  Vintage Church is not the final word; it does not deserve to be, and should not be taken as such.  It does deserve to be read carefully and thankfully and wrestled with vigorously, and I hope that readers will do Mark and Gerry the honour of such an approach.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 10 April 2009 at 09:23

Driscoll and Jones

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Justin Taylor has an interview between Mark Driscoll and Peter Jones of truthXchange (see also Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet).  Lots of interesting nuggets in a wide-ranging discussion.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 31 March 2009 at 13:28

Truth from the idiot’s lantern

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Let me take you this morning to opposite ends of the televisual spectrum.

the-days-before-televisionToday I make a foray into the world of internet and satellite television.  I have no idea how many people will be watching.  It may be three.  I will be participating (with another guest named Leigh Porter) in a two-hour live discussion programme called Simply the Truth, chaired by a gentleman named Doug Harris.  Our topic is ‘Theology.’  The blurb for the programme asks, “Just what is theology?  Should every Christian be a theologian?  How will understanding theology deepen my walk with the Lord?”

This particular broadcast will be from 1pm through 3pm GMT on Genesis TV which can be watched here.

I would appreciate prayer for true wisdom with agility and clarity of mind and mouth, especially when dealing with emails and phone calls from viewers; for the quick establishment of a good rapport with Doug Harris and Leigh Porter; for grace to communicate clearly and Scripturally where I have opportunity to do so; that I might not be put at a disadvantage by the alien environment of a television studio; and, most importantly, that Christ would be lifted up through my speech and attitude.

At the other end of the spectrum, this evening (for US viewers) – and at some pagan hour of the morning for those of us in the UK – Mark Driscoll (with Annie Lobert, Deepak Chopra, and Carlton Pearson) is on ABC Nightline’s Face-Off tonight discussing the existence of Satan.  The debate has already taken place, but Mark has a talent for being provocatively engaging, and all the indications are that he used this platform to preach Jesus Christ the victor.  Should be interesting.  Once I find a link to an online version, I will post it here.

Update: the whole thing can be watched here.

Please pray that in both these instances the proverbial idiot’s lantern would be employed for the glory of God in Christ.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 26 March 2009 at 10:03

Marriage and men

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I don’t know what lies between the lines, but this outline on men and marriage from Mark Driscoll looks like it has excellent material behind it.  If you follow this blog, you will know that, in the church which I serve, we have been dealing with issues related to the Christian family.  When dealing with Biblical manhood, we looked at perversions of masculinity which we called abdication and tyranny.  Mark labels these ‘cowardice’ and ‘chauvinism’.  Here are his insightful categories under each heading:

Chauvinism

  1. No Sissy Stuff Sam: whatever women do, do the opposite.
  2. Success and Status Stewart: masculinity = material success.
  3. Give ‘em Hell Hank: angry and abusive.
  4. I’m the Boss Bob: domineering and controlling; in authority, not under authority.

Cowardice

  1. Little Boy Larry: never grew up, disorganized, lives with his mother, etc.
  2. Sturdy Oak Owen: absolutely dependable but emotionally absent.
  3. Hyper-Spiritual Henry: hides behind religious behavior and “God talk.” Talks at you but not to you.
  4. Good Time Gary: irresponsible life of the party.

I meet these men.  Sometimes I meet more than one of them in the same man, watching certain individuals veering between two extremes.  These are painfully accurate portraits, and I am wondering to which extreme and to which portrait I tend.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 24 March 2009 at 21:41

Reformed and reforming

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A few days ago I was slightly put out.  I had recently read the Time magazine article suggesting that “New Calvinism” was a significant player in the current marketplace of ideas, and the evangelical blogosphere was substantially awash with excitement.

But what is a “New Calvinist.”  Is it a style?  Do you have to be young?  Would restless and reformed help?  Do you have to be soteriologically Calvinistic, or will Amyraldian do?  If you have a concept of a sovereign God who saves sovereignly, does anything else go?

I think it is too soon for the kind of triumphalism (contra Don Carson’s oft-quoted warning from the blurb of Young, Restless, Reformed) that this article has spawned.  I also am intrigued by some of the attitudes that seem to be gaining ground among some of the “New Calvinists” as defined by Time or by themselves (see the above book title for an example).

I write this as one who is probably not a “New Calvinist” by my own or by their definition, but who does not recognise the caricature that is often painted of the “Old Calvinist” that I seem destined to be because someone else has made up a label to stick on me (for more on such labels, see here).  “Old Calvinists” seem to be stuck with the reputation of being cool, arrogant, exclusive, and passé.  However, while some of those accusations may be open to debate, there can be something arrogant and exclusive about the new Calvinism as well.  By this, I do not mean to do a reverse sweep and tar many evidently godly and humble men with the same brush.  It’s not a revenge attack, not even an attack, more of a concerned observation.

There are two things that I wish to identify, and the reaction to the Time article has brought them to the fore again.  Please note that I am not giving a blanket condemnation: these are things that can be true, not are invariably the case.

Firstly, some neo-Calvinists can be historically blinkered.  I acknowledge that this is far from universally true: witness some of John Piper’s excellent treatment of historical figures, for example, or the clear insights from the past gained and then given by other movers and shakers.  It may be a reflection of the freshness of the movement.  Many have only recently come to grasp some of these wonderful truths and are still digging into their foundations.  At the same time, a lack of historical awareness can become not only embarrassing but unfair and even dangerous.  Mark Driscoll – whom I appreciate in many ways – can be a culprit in this regard.  I have blogged before about his quite staggering assertion that until he managed to get Vintage Church into the marketplace, nothing of any substance post-Reformation had given any serious consideration of ecclesiology.  Mark swiftly responded to Time‘s piece with the following ‘insights’ into old and new Calvinism:

  1. Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.
  2. Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
  3. Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.

Talk about caricature!  Now, Mark seems to have backtracked a touch, and is now giving us a Long Live the Dead Guys Week at The Resurgence.  Athanasius is first up.  In this respect, I have changed the title of this section from ‘historically myopic’ to ‘historically blinkered.’  We all have a tendency to read into history – and Scripture, and other sources of data – just what we would like to find there.  By all means disagree with those who have gone before, wisely and sensitively and intelligently and – above all – Biblically i.e. with Scriptural grounds.  By all means assert that you do not think that they got it all right.  But do not suggest that because you have not read something that you agree with, or you do not like what history seems to teach, that no-one has ever taught it.  History is a handmaiden to Scripture, not her mistress, but assertions about church history need to be substantive, even if the interpretation can be debated.  Leaving that argument aside, I am still concerned at the initial caricature of “Old Calvinism” and the historical inaccuracy of the statements Mark makes.  It is not true of the past, and it is not true of the present.

Number 1 is wrong.  There were and are fundamental and liberal strains of “Old Calvinism” which rapidly became and remain unworthy of the label.  However, Mark invests his own notions of what is Biblically credible in the ideas of mission and culture-creation and redemption.  With regard to mission, it is not for nothing that the academy in Geneva was called “Calvin’s school of death”: its nickname arose because so many of its alumni went forth to preach the gospel and perished as witnesses to the truth.  Yes, at times there seems to have been more introspection than we might appreciate and commend, but are we to believe that Whitefield, Carey, Judson, Brainerd, Martyn, and men of their stamp and kidney were not “missional”?  What about Spurgeon?  Furthermore, a distinctively Protestant art has been long recognised.  Men of God who were statesmen, scientists, artists, authors, poets, architects, musicians, and the like have long had a profound and God-honouring role to play in their cultures.  There are still men and women whom I imagine Mark would dismiss as “Old Calvinists” who are actively and prayerfully engaged in the work of gospel mission, even if their notions of creating and redeeming culture may not quite match those of Mark.

Number 2 is wrong.  Old Calvinism did not flee from the cities.  Paul headed for the cities.  Many of the church fathers (of varying reliabilities) were found preaching and teaching in cities.  Geneva was a city.  The Reformation spread through a network of cities.  The Puritans worked from the university cities and were prominent in London churches, spreading across the country.  Whitefield preached in the cities in the UK and the US.  Spurgeon headed for the city.  There may be a danger at times of wishing for a rural retreat, and the development of a fortress mentality – a danger with which I strongly agreed – but “Old Calvinism” was and is not running from the cities.

Number 3 is wrong.  As I have begun to argue elsewhere, what is labelled “cessationism” does not and should not imply being “fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”  Did the first Great Awakening not take place?  Did Spurgeon not preach in the power of the Holy Spirit?  What about Whitefield?  Did Edwards not begin the Humble Attempt concert of prayer?  Was it not revived by the eighteenth century Baptists?  Did the Calvinistic Methodists not exist – men who were, under God, used in some of the most Spirit-drenched periods of blessing upon the Western church?  Apart from the fact that cessationism and continuationism are not labels that refer to antagonism toward the Spirit on the one hand and his embrace upon the other, it is simply not accurate to say that “Old Calvinism” is simply fearful of and resistant to the Spirit of God, even though at times it may either give that impression or, indeed, be so (and arguments to be made on the other side for misunderstanding of the person and work of the Spirit of God among some New Calvinists).  (Furthermore, are all the men to whom Time made reference continuationists?  Al Mohler?)

Number 4 is wrong.  The best men have generally been the most irenic men.  Again, there have been exceptions and aberrations, but few would assault John Owen’s Old Calvinistic credentials, and he is on record as one of those who most ardently pursued every legitimate expression of Christian union.  Jeremiah Burroughs was of the same spirit.  Richard Baxter commented of the Westminster Assembly that “if all Episcopalians had been as Archbishop Ussher, all Presbyterians as Stephen Marshall (the great preacher of the Assembly), and Independents as Jeremiah Burroughs, the divisions of the church might soon have been healed.”  Spurgeon was an unashamed Baptist who preached against the baptismal regeneration implicit in the teaching of the Established Church, yet was not so narrow that he could not appoint a Presbyterian as Principal of his pastors’ college.  “New Calvinism” is sufficiently new to suggest withholding judgment at this point might be wise.  Loving all Christians is right, but the truth must not be sacrificed for the sake of unity.  Besides, Mark’s subsequent assertion that this is the most important point of the four is made to ring a little hollow at this point:

Sadly, Cruel Calvinists are a small but loud bunch. Thus, now more than ever, it is vital that all Christians in general, and Reformed Christians in particular, demonstrate the kind of love and humility that our theology requires. The cruel, flame-thrown half-truths and misquotes between Christians do not speak well to the watching world of the love we are supposed to share. Therefore, it is vital that we distinguish between what I will call state and national theological borders.

Very sweet, but Mark just made his ‘state theological borders’ grounds for calling “Old Calvinists” “Cruel Calvinists.”  Hardly the most irenic statement ever delivered!  Such swingeing assertions rather undermine Mark’s plea to overlook the state boundaries, do they not?

Why have I gone substantially to history to make these points?  Because Mark puts “Old Calvinism” in the past tense.  He is wrong.  The “Old Calvinists” of history were not what he paints them to be (quite how this ties in with “Dead Guys Week” I am not sure), though they doubtless failed at many points.  The “Old Calvinists” of the present are – in many respects – failing to live up to their inheritance, and I would be among the first to recognise it, mourn it, and respond to it.  But the caricature is not accurate, the inheritance is not the one that Mark pictures, and some Old Calvinists remain alive and kicking.

[I should note that - since beginning this piece - I have seen that the insightful R. Scott Clark has also entered the fray at this point.  It will be quickly clear that Dr Clark and I will not agree at many points.  For example, he sees the Reformation as coming to its final expression at a high-water mark that he puts at a very definite point in the history of the church and the development of doctrine.  My understanding of its past and present progress is different to his.  Nevertheless, I have often appreciated many of the points he makes and warnings he gives.]

Secondly, some neo-Calvinists can be immediately blinkered.  This may be in part due to its American bias.  I am not suggesting that there is no international flavour to “New Calvinism,” and I applaud such a flavour, but America is not a nation always noted for its awareness and insights of life beyond its own borders.  I have remarked before that there is something a touch incestuous about the fact that nearly all of the people who puffed Young, Restless and Reformed were either referenced in the book itself, or are intimately associated with those referenced.  “D’ya wanna be in my gang?”  If not, you may be out of the loop.  This struck me forcibly again the other day when I was reading the blurb for a new book.  Some of the movers and shakers of neo-Calvinism (among others) were falling over each other to praise this book to the hilt.  Several of them mentioned the novelty of the treatment.  “At last,” rings out the cry, “someone has addressed this most vital topic!”

“Actually, brothers, there have been books written on this topic, and that quite recently.  Some of them cover the same ground.  You may be discovering certain things for the first time, and I relish your excitement and the fresh sense of God’s wonder.  In fact, I have a holy envy of some of it.  But you are not the first to discover, record, and broadcast these things, not even in the present days.”

I freely acknowledge that none of us have a monopoly on truth.  None of us can read everything that is written: especially today it seems that “of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh” (Ecc 12.12).  None of us can know everything.  None of us are infallible in our assertions, unless those assertions reproduce Biblical truth.

But the world is bigger than certain churches, preachers, authors, hymn-writers.  If the Old Calvinists are called upon to break out of their ghettoes and recognise that grace operates in more spheres than their own, then it does the neo-Calvinists just as well to face the same fact.  The kingdom is bigger than their stake in it.  I love some of the preaching and teaching that these men are doing; I read their books with critical relish; I appreciate their labours; I rejoice in the souls brought into the kingdom by these means; I wish I knew more of the blessing that they enjoy.  But just because the neo-Calvinist gang is big and powerful doesn’t mean that they have a monopoly on the grace, glory, and progress of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It might be wise to remember that when they are patting each other on the back.

I am not an old Calvinist.  I may be an Old Calvinist by some measures and definitions.  I am far too new by others.  But none of us can afford to be historically or immediately blinkered.  God is greater and more glorious than any of us can imagine him to be.  God’s church is bigger than any one part of it.  We have no scope for bitterness, pride, triumphalism, or self-congratulation, on any side of any divide.  Let my Old Calvinist brothers not deny the work of God among the New Calvinists, but rather encourage and support it, be encouraged and taught by it, and invest in it insofar as they can with a good conscience, and set out to instruct it where they cannot.  Let my New Calvinist brothers not ignore the work of God before and apart from them, but pray for it and learn from it where they can, listen to it and accept it.  Let us remember that each of us are called by God to serve him: to our own master we will stand or fall.  Do you have work to do?  Do it with all your might.

Update: Paul Grimmond at The Sola Panel has some reasoned and reasonable things to say.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 16 March 2009 at 13:13

Sound words

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Phil Johnson posts – at the Shepherd’s Fellowship – his sermon from the recent Shepherds’ Conference (one, two, three) on “sound words.”  It is essentially a response to

the tendency of so many pastors lately to employ profanity, crude and obscene words, vile subject matter, carnal topics, graphic sexual imagery, erotic language, and filthy jokes. Most of you, I know, are aware of the trend I’m talking about. I’m tempted to call it the pornification of the pulpit. The justification usually given is that coarse language and sexual themes are the tools of contextualization. It’s a way to make us sound more relevant. Lots of voices in the church are insistent that this is absolutely essential if we want to reach certain segments of our culture.

speakerIt is a clear, vigorous presentation of the case for “sound words” and we would do well to consider it carefully.  Mark Driscoll is plainly referenced (consider his sermon at a Desiring God conference on the topic of words, How sharp the edge?), as is Ed Young Jr (of the seven-day sex challenge fame), though they are not simply lumped together.  Phil has answered some of the brouhaha over at Pyromaniacs, making plain that – while he thinks that Mark has a case to answer – the sermon is not merely an assault on him.  There he makes clear that he has sought to address his concerns personally with Mark, and was clearly not particularly impressed with his response.

These are not insignificant issues: the Scriptures are full of instruction with regard to our tongues, our mouths, our words, our speech.  The significance of speech, not least with regard to sin and holiness, is a prominent theme of God’s Word.  We would do well to consider the relevant Scriptural principles, not simply to line up behind Johnson or Driscoll from our predetermined positions or as a member of a fanbase.  We must consider what God says, heed the careful counsel given by those appointed to teach, meditate on the truth concerning our words, and seek to be holy as God is holy.  When it comes to our words, which of us can say anything but this?

“Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6.5)

Update: Rich Barcellos has some thoughts on the language of the New Testament.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 12 March 2009 at 08:44

Posted in General

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900

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What do you make of this?

Is it vision?  Or arrogance?  Is it planning?  Or pragmatism?  Is it boldness?  Or brashness?  Do you wish?  Or do you groan?

And I don’t think it’s very manly, either.  The Spartans managed with only a third as many.

spartan-fighting-300

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 12 February 2009 at 08:27

When earnest men say silly things

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From Mark Driscoll’s latest blurb on Vintage Church:

In chapter 2 of Vintage Church we answer the question, “What Is the Christian Church?” We felt this important [sic] was incredibly important as there has not been a serious consideration of the issue since the days of the Protestant Reformation. Furthermore, in our age of churches of all kinds including multi-site churches with video preachers, and even online virtual churches it is imperative that church leaders, as well as the average Christian who wants to be part of a church, to have a biblical understanding of what is and what is not a church.  [emphasis mine]

If the highlighted phrase is not utter pants, then kindly fax me an explanation of what is!

I appreciate the stimulating challenges that Mark often brings to my thinking, even if I am not finally persuaded by his exegesis or application.  I value the fact that he is interacting with the issues raised by the world in which we live, and not the world we would like to live in or the world that our forefathers lived in.  I have not yet read Vintage Church, and I look forward to doing so (I should be interested to see how/if Mark seeks Biblically to justify such things as multi-site churches and virtual churches).

However, to declare that no-one has seriously considered the issue of the church since the Protestant Reformation is such an historically myopic declaration that it deserves special notice.  In fairness, it may be that Mark means that some or most of the fundamental assumptions laid down at the Reformation have not been challenged as he would wish in the centuries since then.  However, if he is suggesting that no-one has engaged and interacted with the issues, wrestled with matters of Christian polity and practice, and advanced our Scriptural understanding of the identity, nature and purpose of God’s redeemed people in the world then he is sadly mistaken, and such one-eyed and seemingly arrogant statements will do nothing for his credibility.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 26 January 2009 at 08:36

“Death By Love: Letters from the Cross”

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Death By Love: Letters from the Cross by Mark Driscoll

Crossway, 2008 (257pp, hbk)

Death By Love (see the website) puts the reality of substitutionary atonement front and centre.  Its opening salvo is aimed at some of the false and foolish notions of Christ’s death that have gained currency in recent years.  Christ is shown, from the Scriptures of God, to have died in accordance with his Father’s will and design, voluntarily offering himself up as a sacrifice in the place of sinners.  God’s justice and mercy are repeatedly shown to kiss in this book, and both are exalted in the process.

death-by-love

Having laid this solid foundation, Mark Driscoll – the primary author of the bulk of each chapter – then goes on to apply Christ’s crosswork to a variety of pastoral case-studies.  In twelve separate chapters, the author writes what is in effect a pastoral letter to each of twelve people.  Each chapter follows the same pattern: in a page or two, the situation itself is briefly outlined and explained.  The twelve recipients of the letters are extremely varied, and tend toward more extreme circumstances: one wonders whether such portraits tend toward the sensational, which might serve on the one hand to highlight the nature of the issues or, on the other, to cloud the principles being applied in the often uncomfortable detail of the problem.

Katie is a haunted Christian struggling to escape memories of sexual sins in her past and needing to face up to the realities of spiritual warfare and the victory of Christ over Satan and his minions; the theme here is Christus victor.  Thomas is a slave to lust, and occasionally confesses his sin to pastors as a release of pressure on his conscience – he needs to see the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  Luke is humiliated and out for blood after he found out from his profoundly-repentant wife that – just before they were both converted – she had slept with his best friend; he needs to see Jesus as his new covenant sacrifice.  David is a control freak whose Christianity seems to consist in his obedience to a multitude of self-imposed rules – whether or not he is truly converted is difficult to discern, but he needs to grasp that Jesus is his gift righteousness.  John molested a child and is being crushed under the weight of his awful guilt: unless he sees Jesus as his justification he will die without hope.  Bill’s father beat him but has recently been converted, while Bill finds his father’s anger in his own heart even if he does not use his father’s outward violence, and is struggling to resolve all these tensions, which resolution he will find in Jesus his propitiation.  Before she was converted Mary was raped repeatedly by an abusive boyfriend and it has marred all her subsequent relationships, including her present marriage to a Christian man: feeling herself to be damaged goods, she needs to grasp that Christ is her expiation.  Gideon is Mark Driscoll’s son, and his daddy wants him to understand – as he grows up surrounded by Christians and God’s truth – that Jesus is his “unlimited limited atonement.”  Hank is a foul old man with a history of gross sin and no understanding of grace who is slowly brought to understand that he deserves God’s condemnation in hell, and will drink every drop of the cup of God’s wrath unless he embraces Jesus as his ransom.  Caleb was casually ungodly until he fell for a Christian woman – pursuing her, he found God pursuing him, and was converted and eventually married her, knowing that she was suffering from a brain tumour that may keep her from having children and living long: Caleb, a vibrant saint, needs Christus exemplar in order to go on loving and serving his wife through these challenges.  Kurt is a vocal non-Christian whose life is a mess and who hates his converted brother: Kurt cannot be reconciled to his brother until Jesus is his reconciliation with God.  Susan is a philosophically-minded young woman who wants to know God and what he is like, and will not do so until she comes to see Christ crucified as the revelation of God.

As is plain from the overview above, some of those to whom Driscoll writes are Christians struggling with some painful experience or difficult prospects.  Others are unbelievers who must come face to face with painful reality in order that they might know Christ accurately.  All need a deeper, more accurate, Spirit-wrought perspective on who he is and what he has done.  Turning the multi-faceted gem of the atoning Christ before us, different aspects of the work of Christ as crucified are brought to bear in each instance.  At the end of each chapter, Gerry Breshears – Mark’s theological fullback – answers some more technical questions about the doctrine expressed in the body of the chapter.

mark-driscoll-1

There is little doubt that this is the most pastoral of Mark Driscoll’s books to date and the least humorous.  That does not mean that it is mushy or dry (although those who read Driscoll because he is funny might find this book a little fusty).  He is at once tender with those agonizing under a genuine sense of guilt and shame or facing a challenge that will overwhelm them apart from Christ, and honest – to the point of painful directness – with regard to sin and sins that are being evaded or ignored.  One individual is called to recognize that “You are a despicable human being.”  Another is informed, “Throughout your life you have sinned against God, and you owe him as well.  As it stands right now, you are on your way to hell, which is the eternal prison for spiritual debtors like you who have ripped God off by living sinful lives.  There is not any way that a good, holy and just God could possibly endorse or even overlook your pathetic life” (110, 187).  Some may resent this language, or the idea of treating someone in this way, but surely unless sinners come to see themselves as despicable men they will not turn to a holy Savior?  There is, perhaps, a constitutional inclination to such robustness in Driscoll, but it is an inclination that many preachers today would do well to embrace in degree: it could be that one reason why there is so little true conviction of sin among those to whom we preach is because we do not preach sin in all its fearful realities, and – in dependence on the Spirit of God – set out to bring men to the point where they break in the face of their awful condition.  Others might phrase it differently, but we need to communicate the same basic message.

Certain themes and topics recur throughout the book.  If read in one sitting, this might feel a little repetitive, but the structure and genre demand that certain notes be sounded again and again, albeit to different people.  However, imagining that many reading this book might turn first (only?) to the chapter that most mirrors their own experience, this becomes a literary and pastoral necessity.  Not everyone is going to take time to dig out the distinction between expiation and propitiation from the introduction, for example, and so it needs to be repeated and particularly applied to individual cases.

There are also some high points of powerful, persuasive and engaging writing in the book: the author paints different word portraits of Jesus and they are often beautiful, being accurately sketched and deeply felt and earnestly presented.  There is more than a little sanctified imagination at points, though it does not often cause any problems, but rather serves the function of the book.

In principle, then, this is a good model of Christ-centred, cross-shaped pastoring, as Driscoll presses the cross into each situation.  As the apostle Paul does in writing his letters to various churches, so Driscoll attempts to do in writing to various individuals.  How does Christ and him crucified resolve the crisis?  Pastors would do well to acknowledge the legitimacy and priority of such an approach, even if they would not dispense the Driscoll pill in the same way.

One element that can become a little grating is how often Mark tries to show his reader how his life mirrored theirs at a certain point.  While he often points to his heart rather than his experience, this is still a dangerous game: it can sometimes give the impression of trying to be an Everyman, which a pastor does not need to be.  Though it may be an effort to show a Christlike sympathy, it does not always work.  Furthermore, some will resent anything that appears to suggest that “I have suffered as you have suffered” (although Christ can truly say that he has suffered beyond what any man has suffered).

Another difficulty lies in some of the theological formulations.  In a book of this sort it is not possible to defend every nuance and phrase of one’s theology, and Driscoll’s confident directness does not always lend itself to this anyway.  I do not, therefore, intend to nitpick about certain phrases and ideas, except to recognise that I would not necessarily embrace every element of every diagnosis, nor every nuance of prescription.  It may be that Mark’s emergent roots have left him as something of a theological jackdaw, nicking bits and pieces of shiny theology from various traditions.  That might not be fair, but there is one major issue that ought to be identified.  Writing to his own son, Mark sets out Jesus “unlimited limited atonement.”  He explicitly denies the heresies of “Christian universalism” and “contemporary Pelagianism” before discussing the following three options: unlimited atonement, limited atonement, and unlimited limited atonement.  The latter is posited as the balancing resolution of the two former, and Driscoll emerges as a hypothetical universalist, or Amyraldian.  As one who is often identified (by others?) as SoRe (i.e. soteriologically reformed) this causes problems.  Although Amyrald[ian]ism may be – wittingly or not – the soteriology de jour among many of the young, restless, and allegedly reformed, it is not itself a genuinely reformed stance.  It is disappointing that – in putting this forward – Mark Driscoll actually undermines the fullness of Christ’s saving work in the very book in which he is trying to exalt him.

There is much to learn from this book, both in principle and in practice, and I think it shows Mark at his best in many respects.  In appreciating and profiting from this book, then, let us read it with wisdom and discernment, and guided by Scripture in the ongoing application of the crucified Lord of Glory to the spiritual needs of men and women of every stripe and in every circumstance.

“Who Would Jesus Smack Down?”

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The New York Times covers Mark Driscoll: an interesting mix of observation, comment, insight and misunderstanding (of evangelicalism, Calvin, Calvinism, and Christianity).  (Note: if she gets Calvin and Geneva so wrong, tread carefully before simply embracing her assertions about Driscoll in Seattle.)

PS Scott Clark has some stimulating thoughts on this same article.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 10 January 2009 at 18:35

“The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out”

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The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out by Mark Driscoll

Zondervan, 204pp, pbk

As with all of Mark Driscoll’s books that I have read, The Radical Reformission is an accessible volume in which the points are always made with vigour and often with humour.  It is characterised by uncomfortable and sometimes borderline-brutal honesty both with himself and with others.  It has the sort of vox pop pages interspersed that you will find in many of the books, vignettes of men and women whose lives have been changed by the Lord Christ.  I understand that Mark is on a mission (in many senses) in this and many of his books, but – although it’s not quite a case of “Read one, read ‘em all” – one becomes accustomed to some of the same points being made in the same way with the same language and illustrated with the same diagrams to take out some of the same targets.  Even the comic riffs and quips will be substantially familiar to those who read or hear much of Mark’s output – they are often funny, but when they are part of a routine that you have heard before, they begin to lose their snap.  As ever, I would not agree with some of the assumptions and implications (e.g. extra-Biblical special revelation), but that is part of the Driscoll package.  I don’t always appreciate the statistical and over-pragmatic approach to charting needs and identifying how you are meeting them, although I do recognise the value of knowing and understanding (and, in degree, measuring) your culture.  There will also be questions for many over the point being made by interviews with the Christian tattoo artist and body piercer (‘What would Jesus tattoo?’) and the Christian band manager who is ‘Rocking for the Lamb’.  That said, how many of us have the privilege of ministering to converted tattoo artists, exotic dancers, and rock musicians?  I might not agree with the solution, but I would bless God for the problem!

That tricky balance shifts us to the more specific issues of content.  I am persuaded that Mark asks a lot of the right questions, even if I do not agree with all of the answers.  The thrust of the book has to do the willingness and ability of Christ’s church to bring the gospel to the culture in which we live.  The book begins with the Lord Jesus, and is a sincere attempt to work out how he did, and how his disciples should, engage with a dying world to bring them the gospel of grace.  With lots of local colour we are asked to consider what it means to love our Lord through the gospel (Part 1) and to love our neighbour in the culture (Part 2).  The first part deals with Christlikeness, the gospel message, and real evangelising.  The second addresses a right understanding of and fruitful connection with culture, attacking both syncretism and sectarianism (although doubtless folks on both sides would happily spend all their time shooting at Mark’s critique from the middle – some of my potshots fly in from what he would doubtless call sectarianism and fundamentalism), and then a sweeping critique of postmodern pandemonium.

There is lots of good stuff in here.  Some of it is simply fresh light on old principles, or helpful insights from the Scriptures.  There are a number of things I would leave, or conclusions that I cannot accept, I think on Scriptural principles.

In some senses it is a typical missional call to arms: urgent, vigorous, and edgy, it is loaded at the front end – get the gospel to the people.  It is lighter on what we do with the people once Christ has brought them into submission to him.  The reformed community (by which I mean those more than soteriologically reformed) has many good answers to those latter questions, but we are not presently so effective at the front end.  Those are the questions Mark asks of us, and they are good and necessary questions.  If we do not agree with all of Mark’s answers, we cannot leave the questions hanging: we must provide answers of our own, and they will need to be coherent, consistent and Biblically credible ones.  They will need to be answers not in theory only, but in practice also.  I would not commend all Mark Driscoll’s answers, but it does reformed believers no harm whatsoever to take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror of Scripture in the light of some of the questions he puts to us in this volume (questions to which, all too often, we have no answer).

Read this wisely and carefully, but read it ready to react, even if you do not adopt the Driscoll template in your response.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 2 October 2008 at 10:40

Posted in Reviews

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More preaching notes

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Mark Driscoll’s preaching notes, via Josh Harris, here.  These I like!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 25 September 2008 at 09:15

Driscoll and Grudem

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Mark Driscoll interviews Wayne Grudem: brief but interesting, especially in the light of current debates about the infallibility and inerrancy of God’s Word.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 8 August 2008 at 08:07

J. I. Packer’s counsel

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Mark Driscoll records counsels from J. I. Packer to young Christian leaders concerning regeneration, God-centred theology, domestic godliness, and the Trinity here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 July 2008 at 19:16

Clerk’n’Dwell

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This is the promised update supplement from a few days ago.  At the end of last week I was pushing through various errands and tasks, trying to get ahead of myself in preparation for an evening and a day in London, wrapped around a regular if not frequent early-morning prayer meeting at the church I serve.  The week was too busy to allow me to do everything I would have wished to do, so I had to work out a few priorities.  One of them was trying to identify the source of a bug infestation which turned out to be weevils in a bag of birdseed, and then to deal with them.  All gags about the lesser of two weevils have already been attempted.  When you have a merry band of the little blighters waving a cheery hello in your study every morning, the comic effect wears off swiftly.

Last Friday night, I went to St James Clerkenwell to hear Mark Driscoll at an event appallingly entitled – I hope and imagine and presume not by him – “Mark Driscoll Unleashed in London” (as blogged here by Adrian Warnock), which is a bit too American Werepreacher in London even for a man who describes himself as hairy enough to be part-Wookiee.  Anyway, the vicar of St James – a very welcoming man – was a typically urbane and self-deprecating Anglican clergyman, which was (to me) an intriguing and slightly strange counterpoint to Mark and the two other hairy Americans travelling with him, Scott Thomas of the Acts 29 Network, and David Fairchild, the Acts 29 International European Representative (introduced in subtle fashion as a converted cage fighter with a chest like a boat).

Mark preached from Acts 17, from which the Mars Hill Church – which he pastors – is named.  He set out his stall in many respects.  It was somewhere between running commentary and rolling exegesis, with occasional but pointed application.  Anyone who had heard any of Mark’s sermons at NewFrontiers from the previous few days would immediately have heard some of the same notes sounded.  It was a fairly thorough and often insightful survey of the passage and it was toward the end that Mark hotted up.  In dealing with Paul’s address in the midst of the Areopagus, he spoke of contextualization and contention.  The bogey-word contextualization he addressed quite carefully, emphasizing that the goal of contextualization, as he views it, is not to make the gospel relevant, but to demonstrate the gospel’s abiding relevancy.  Paul uses cultural reference points familiar to the Athenians to obtain a hearing (I can almost hear the explosions of horror at the potential abuses of such a declaration, and I think I understand them).  But he then contends with them, introducing the truth of God into his address and making hard contact on the realities of sin, repentance, judgement and grace.  He identified three responses: contempt, curiosity, conversion.  With regard to the first, we must expect to be brushed off – sometimes aggressively and scornfully – by those who will not receive the truth.  Some are curious, and they may eventually be saved, though it may take some time for them to consider more fully and explore more carefully the truths to which they have been introduced.  Some, when they hear of Jesus, will be converted, and added to the church.  Toward the end of the sermon, he pointed out that vigorous Christianity is counter-cultural in many respects, that the Christian lifestyle is “alternative” in many modern Western cities.  Here he made people laugh, and one funny example quickly turned into a comic riff on encounters with the weirdos of Seattle.  That, I suspect, is one of the disadvantages of being competently comical: he didn’t quite lose his thread, but he seemed to me to be diverted for a while, until he wrenched it back to the point that he was making.

On Saturday, I went to the Dwell Conference in London, at which Mark preached twice, Scott Thomas addressed the qualities of an Acts 29 church planter, and Steve Timmis of the Crowded House in Sheffield preached twice.  Again, Adrian Warnock plans to post more comment and video for those who are interested.  Mark’s two sermons were on the religion of works vs. the gospel of grace, and on preaching Jesus (which latter address was cut short and a Q&A session introduced, because it was the last session of the day and there was an air of weariness about preacher and hearers alike).  I appreciated Scott’s session as well: he asked 20 questions, many of them to do with character and grace as well as gift, which seem to me to be good questions for any pastor to ask in terms of his heart and desires.  To be honest, I struggled with Steve Timmis.  I did not find him particularly clear, and I don’t think the structure of his second session was particularly helpful: his points seemed to drive his exegesis, rather than the other way round.  Maybe I am more attuned to – and correspondingly suspicious of – things in the UK, but I would have liked him to make plain what he was not saying (which begged too many questions) as well as what he was. That’s not intended as an attack on a brother in Christ: I do not know Steve Timmis, and am simply making an assessment of this particular occasion.  Others doubtless found him more profitable.

Again, my main reason for attending was to hear Mark Driscoll.  His interweb ubiquity and the number of people who seem to be ready to stand up for and against him intrigued me.  I had listened to him preach, and have read several of his books so far.  In order to interact fairly with him, his friends and his foes, I wanted to hear him for myself.  I am also conscious that if the Driscoll bandwagon arrives in the UK, it would be worth knowing better the people and movements who stand ready to jump aboard, co-opting the name and riding the momentum, for better or for worse.

I found him very helpful in the morning session especially.  He was very plain and painfully convicting when dealing not only with the tendency to and reality of idolatry in the human heart, but also the corresponding problem of a religion of works once we have left rank paganism behind.  If we are to minister to the obviously unrighteous we must be at least as frank with and devastating to the self-righteous (who, it might be argued, worship the idol self).  There were plenty of stimulating asides about the nature of idolatry and ‘religion’ per se from a man who has given himself to study and understand these things.  His afternoon session was briefer, and he was wearier, but he dealt fairly broadly with what it means to bring Jesus to bear on sinners before answering questions.  There he re-produced a couple of his more famous rants, including one on sexuality and a healthy and righteous attitude to it.  Was he crude?  At points, borderline.  Was he right?  Substantially so.  Was it British?  Undoubtedly not!  Does that matter?  Not in the slightest.  To be honest, if he was dressed in a suit and tie, slightly more guarded in his speech, and less funny, I can imagine many of my more extensively (breadth rather than depth) Reformed brethren commending him for his honesty, clarity and distinctness in this matter.

He also made two comments about British Christians that I found insightful.  British culture, he suggested, had impacted the church in Britain.  He had watched people while here.  Firstly, recognising something of our surface politeness, he nevertheless suggested that there is a lot of nastiness underneath.  He described it as “fake niceness”: we smile while we stab.  We are apparently gracious and truly pushy.  Secondly, we are characterised by cowardice.  We will not say what needs to be said, and we will not say what we mean.  In my humble estimation, both charges are true.

I had a chance to speak briefly with Mark toward the end of the day.  I explained where I am coming from theologically and ecclesiologically as a Reformed Baptist.  Trying to locate myself in the spectrum, I said that in many respects I would stand with – and painfully far behind – Spurgeon (Mark is a big fan of the man), and that at many points in which he disagreed with Spurgeon he would probably disagree with me and I with him.  I tried to encourage him, and assured him that I was learning from him.  Without trying to be at all condescending (and I hope that I succeeded) I said that if he was delivering pizza, I do not like all the packaging; I do like many of the toppings, but find others very hard to swallow; I also think I like the delivery guy.

What do I mean?  Negatively, I don’t buy everything that Mark teaches, and I am not always persuaded that it is presented in a way that most glorifies God.  In this category are such matters as the cultivation of cultural relevance, the nature and form of worship, the structures and practice of church government, the so-called charismatic gifts (his views on dreams and prophecy, for example, or his conviction that God spoke audibly to him), some of what I believe to be pragmatism (church growth pursued on the basis of statistical analysis?) and – if I knew them – perhaps half a hundred other things.  I think he is wrong or, in some cases, at least not fully Biblically nuanced on many of these matters.  I imagine that he struggles to reign in his comic capacity (much as Spurgeon did, although perhaps with less success), and I think that he sometimes does comic routines and riffs which can be a little samey when you have heard them three times in a week (OK, so the guy was also knackered, and admitted that he was increasingly inclined to repeat himself).  I also don’t think that my opinion bothers him in the slightest, but I do think that he is himself concerned to be right, and seeks to be so.

As to the detail of these things, if I come to the conclusion that there is something dangerous that I should identify, I can do so.  But I do think that those things are first and foremost for my brother to hear from me.  Public figures do put themselves up for public evaluation, but that doesn’t mean that they need to be publicly excoriated just for fun.  I do get frustrated with the cheap pot-shots so easily taken from all sides, and think that we too readily forget what it means to communicate according to Scripture guidance.  I also hear people talk about the ‘trajectory’ that he is on as if that excuses what are or may be aberrations from the Bible, which I think is shortsighted.  In addition, if everyone who disagrees with him dismisses him as a freak beneath their notice, or condemns him out of hand, then how would he (or, for that matter, any one of us) ever learn?

Positively, I like Mark’s manly vigour, what I discern to be his honesty and integrity, his humour (when well-used), and his freshness of approach, with often stimulating readings and applications of Scripture.  I like much of what I see of the man, even though I do not always agree with him, and sometimes vigorously so.  I appreciate that I at least know what I don’t agree with, because he is plain about what he believes.  I think he has made many of the right enemies, and I can stand against them with him.  I appreciate that he would at least argue with me from the Bible (most of the time).  I like his desire and intention to preach the gospel as fully as he understands it, and to exalt the Lord Jesus as much as he is enabled.  I like his boldness, even brashness, and his willingness to suffer for what he believes to be right.  I like his concern to preach the good news to the most wretched, and I appreciate the fact that the Lord seems to be blessing his ministry to many whom I am not reaching.  I recall something that I read in Ted Donnelly’s outstanding book on Heaven and Hell that I think I could apply in degree to Mark Driscoll.  He writes of the effect that an accurate doctrine of Hell should have upon Christians with regard to our witness to the lost.  Pastor Donnelly says that

it is in this area that other believers can challenge us by their overwhelming zeal, their passion for the lost, their commitment to prayer and to bold, imaginative activity.  Their theology may be defective, their evangelism unbalanced, their methodology suspect and none of these can be defended.  But their enthusiasm is commendable, their zeal a rebuke and a stimulus to us.  God who, as the Puritans loved to say, ‘can draw a straight line with a crooked stick’, blesses their compassionate, believing witness and uses them to bring many to faith.[1]

I do not mean to damn with faint praise.  I mean to confess that – if I truly believe in a sovereign God, and know myself a creature, a sinner, and a servant – I can learn from Mark Driscoll.  I am more than willing to do so.  I cannot be undiscerning; I should not be foolish.  I ought to manifest the courage of my convictions as Mark does his.  But ought I not also to imitate him as he imitates Christ?  He has, I think, a deep grasp on the saving realities of the glorious gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and is determined to preach it as fully and freely as he knows how.  In that, I am happy to pray that God would bless him, happy to learn from him, and ready to ask that he – as I – might grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


[1] Edward Donnelly, Heaven and Hell (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001). 58.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 17 July 2008 at 12:12

Christ’s church: fortress and outpost?

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Adrian Warnock is live-blogging the NewFrontiers conference a few miles from my home.  Mark Driscoll is preaching.  Driscoll’s latest sermon was on the missional church.  I would not go along with everything (shock of the new), but I think Mark Driscoll’s call to demonstrate the abiding relevance of Christ and the true religion of Christ is necessary, because it is something that I am not good at.  I appreciated his warning that one of the reasons why Britain is so unChristian is that we’re so British, and we might need to get out of our box and start getting involved in people’s lives.

Again, he has some interesting perspectives on the church.  Here are his alternatives:

Some people think of church as a bomb-shelter. You can identify this by lots of “we and them” language. Here you will find lots of preaching against the culture, not engagement with it. You will find people who share your values and protect your kids. There is no attempt to evangelize. This is classic fundamentalism.

Other people see church as a mirror. This is classic liberalism. Gender issues is a classic current example. If the culture is for an issue, the church then compromises and mirrors what is in the culture. No attempt is made to redeem the culture. They may be more aware, but in the end they are less helpful.

Some see church as a parasite. They enter the culture to take out of it for themselves. There is no real giving. They want to benefit from what happens, but not do for them. Ask non-Christians what they think of the church. Their answer will be—no serving the poor, no helping, no doing good, and taking, not contributing.

Some see church as a city within a city—a city on a hill. The Church is the city of God within the city of the world. Here the Church loves Jesus, believes the Bible, practices grace, and the power of God is made known. The people live differently within the culture. They are not antagonistic or negative, but live an alternative life style. They invite others to join in this life style.

If we remember that the church is the new covenant people of God, gathered after the pattern of Israel of old, the congregation standing together for worship and warfare of a spiritual kind, then we will understand more clearly what we are about as the called-out people of God.  We are called to be a distinctive people, a separated people, but not an isolated people, for how then can we glorify God in reaching the lost as well as teaching the reached?  If we think of the church only as a fortress into which we retreat, and not also as an outpost from which we advance the kingdom, then we shall be in danger of sinking into myopic irrelevance.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 10 July 2008 at 08:30

“Young, Restless, Reformed”

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young-restless-reformedYoung, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists by Collin Hansen

Crossway Books, 2008 (156 pp, pbk)

Dever; Driscoll; Duncan; Challies; Harris; Horton; MacArthur; Mahaney; Mohler; Piper; Sproul: these are the meats sometimes uncomfortably sandwiched between the pages of this book, together drenched in “Reformed” mayonnaise. Young, Restless, Reformed is the exploration by Christianity Today editor-at-large Collin Hansen of the phenomenon of the new Calvinists, the so-called Reformed resurgence.

With the exception of a few scant references, the focus is entirely on the US. Nevertheless, most of the names will be familiar to those with an interest in Reformed doctrine and practice. Hansen begins with John Piper and “the Piper fiends” (Pipettes?), before surveying “Ground Zero” (Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, where Al Mohler holds sway), then considering the Mahaney/Harris axis at Covenant Life Church and the New Attitude conference, and ending up with Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in Seattle. In between and helping us along the way are a multitude of other movers and shakers and bit-players. Hanging over it all is the far-from-spectral but somewhat ambivalent figure of Jonathan Edwards.

It is, in many respects, a joyous read. To see a substantial recovery of Biblical truth on such a large scale cannot be anything but exciting. To see the unity and co-labouring it prompts and promotes is delightful. To read of predominantly young men and women in the modern West giving themselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures is thrilling and humbling.

Hansen does take time to consider the detractors and the devaluers, but there is a sympathetic tone that makes plain that Hansen is fundamentally ‘on-side’ with those of whom he writes. This perhaps contributes to the fact that the book can read more like an exercise in comprehension than in analysis: it provides a snapshot rather than a vigorous assessment.

Another weakness is that the whole scene can appear somewhat incestuous and self-referential. The book is about or refers to people who endorse it in the blurb, read by them, reviewed by them (often in the Web 2.0 environment). The same people are writing books from the same publishers and referring to one another’s blogs. Is there a danger of self-congratulation, of failing to recognise that this is a much bigger community than it was, but still not that big or effective a community? Might the mutual back-slapping hide the fact of how much work there still is to do?

Furthermore, there is – if not a confusion – at least a question of terminology. Most of the subjects welcome the Reformed label, but how accurately is it being applied? It seems that most of those involved in this movement share a Reformed (or, at least, a Calvinistic) soteriology. The question is raised even in the book as to whether this really constitutes “being Reformed,” as well as how much it matters. Do we need, for example, a Reformed ecclesiology, a Reformed pneumatology, or Reformed doxology (or all of the above) in order to call ourselves genuinely ‘Reformed’? In other words, would the patron saint of the new Calvinists, Jonathan Edwards, recognise all these individuals and groups as Reformed? One could argue that this very question may be redefined by weight of numbers involved in this movement who do not embrace what has traditionally been, and been accepted as, part of the Reformed package. On this basis, there may be many who will wonder whether or not they are a part of this movement, and whether they want to be, and – if so – to what extent. This is especially so where the question is being begged over the extent to which the church is reaching the culture as opposed to the culture assimilating the church.

Finally, and leading on from this, one must ask, So what? and, Who cares? We must understand what is the trajectory of this movement, and what its terminus (or termini, if it splinters). We must watch its effects. Will the somewhat insular nature of the new Calvinist community betray it into a failure to preach the very gospel it boasts of recovering to those in need of Jesus on our doorsteps? In some circles there seems to be a very real temptation to preach to the converted (in the essential sense of that word), gaining ‘converts’ from other Christian camps rather than from the world around us, to argue other believers into our camp far more than to proclaim a saving Christ to needy sinners. Surely if we are constrained by what Warfield defined as of the essence of genuine Calvinism (of Biblical Christianity) – “a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly as a sinful creature”[1] – then it will work itself out in a determination to have God glorified in salvation as well as among the saved, in both reaching the lost and teaching the reached.

There is much that is splendid about the movement described by Hansen, but it contains within it some fascinating and fearful tensions, as well as some wonderful prospects. Much depends on the legacy of the present leaders, and the readiness of those who follow to pursue a comprehensive Scripturalism that will govern head and heart and hands. Reading this book will help observers and participants to gauge both the trajectory and the likely terminus of this curious company, but should also challenge us about the extent to which our faith and our life are keeping pace.


[1] B. B, Warfield, Works, vol. 5, Calvin and Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), 354.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 10 May 2008 at 09:06

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