Archive for the ‘Current affairs’ Category
A friend draws my attention to the website of the Evangelical Times, a British Christian newspaper, with the opportunity to sign up for a monthly newsletter. Other resources include suggestions for prayer topics and material to encourage prayer for particular countries, including powerpoint presentations which introduce a particular country and provide relevant prayer points. Also available, though I have not seen or used it, is a developing resource library for church youth groups, with a monthly presentation suitable for young people based around a question from the Shorter Catechism. Enjoy!
For British readers (although I am not sure how this impacts upon the Scots), the issue of how marriage ought to be defined is a current and significant concern. It is presently the subject of a government consultation with a view to potential ‘redefinition’ providing for a shift away from the notion of marriage as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” toward something that would provide for homosexual couples to marry (as opposed to the current provision for so-called “civil partnerships”).
How ought Christians – individually, as citizens of a particular earthly nation as well as citizens of heaven, and corporately, either as concerned groups or as churches, conducting their business as such – to respond to this? To some extent, this will depend on your view of the relationship between the church and the state, and the rights and responsibilities of believers – individually, corporately, and ecclesiastically – to address the powers that be.
There have been at least two responses with differing emphases.
The bigger and more prominent of the two to date has been the Coalition for Marriage (C4M). My sense of this organisation is that it addresses the matter primarily as a civic issue, relies more on general revelation (depending primarily on traditional and evidential arguments), and thereby and therefore embracing quite a broad sector of religious and irreligious persons who support the notion of marriage, an expression of an extensive co-belligerency (for example, the prominence of Roman Catholics has been noted by some commentators).
However, others – while not necessarily rejecting the propriety and reasonableness of such an approach – have wished to make a more distinctively Christian response on the grounds of special revelation (drawing arguments from the Word of God and seeking to express convictions either as a church or as individuals that reflect the convictions of evangelical, Bible-believing Christians) and therefore and thereby expressing a more pointed response which addresses the responsibilities of the civil magistracy to the God who appointed it. In this regard, my attention was recently drawn to Real Marriage, a relatively new player on the field, and the brainchild of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales. Rejecting the Romish, Erastian and radical Anabaptist perspectives on the relationship (or lack of it) between church and state, their website allows for individual Christians to sign a petition calling for the preservation of the existing definition of marriage on Biblical grounds, and further provides for churches which consider it legitimate to be involved to identify themselves as supporters. My understanding is that these brothers would encourage people to sign the C4M petition, but also to sign their petition as a more distinctively Christian expression of concern.
I imagine that most of the readers of this blog would believe that citizens of heaven have certain duties and obligations and responsibilities grounded in a right relationship to the God-appointed civil authorities. However, of those, some may feel conscience-bound not to embrace the co-belligerent approach of the Coalition for Marriage, others would be happy to make an individual and/or ecclesiastical statement through something like Real Marriage (perhaps in addition to the C4M approach), and perhaps others still would wish to operate entirely outside such organisations.
So, if for some reason you have been wrestling with this matter and have been trying to work out how to respond in principle and by what means to do so in practice, I hope that by drawing your attention both to the Coalition for Marriage and Real Marriage, you will find illumination on the former and perhaps an opportunity for the latter.
Thanks to those who are still following this little sequence. Today we are finishing off.
Conclusions and counsels
My conclusion essentially is this: be Calvinists. Don’t be New Calvinists or Old Calvinists, whatever those distinctions really mean. Live before God rather than before men. You do not need to capitulate and ride the current of the moment. There is no need to jump on the bandwagon just because it is going past at speed, glowing with the power of the newest technology and applauded by adoring fans. You do not need to panic and circle the wagons, eminently suspicious of everyone who may not be “one of us.” You do not need to lash out, making your wagons in chariots of war in which to ride down and trample upon the enemy.
We may not always agree with them, but we must remember that we are dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ, and should treat them in all respects as such until their doctrine or practice prove that they are otherwise. That means that we must recognize that we are united in Christ, although we do have differences of opinion, some of them significant. God is their Father and our Father, and He is in control of all things for the glory of His name and the good of all His redeemed people. None of Christ’s will be lost. The purposes of our heavenly Father are being accomplished in the earth. His kingdom is advancing. Our responsibility is to live before God to the praise of His glory. We must set our own house in order first, and ensure that our doctrine and our practice marry, that we manifest degrees of heat and of light that are coordinate with and complementary to one another. We neither know all we should do, nor do all we know, and it is in the equal march of faith and life, knowing and doing, telling and showing, that we gain the platform that will enable us to serve our friends who differ from us in other respects. C. H. Spurgeon, speaking of the attitude of some toward those holy Arminians John and Charles Wesley, said, “I am afraid that most of us are half-asleep and those that are a little awake have not begun to feel. It will be time for us to find fault with John and Charles Wesley, not when we discover their mistakes, but when we have cured our own. When we shall have more piety than they, more fire than they, more grace, more burning love, more intense unselfishness, then, and not till then, may we begin to find fault and criticize.”
I can sincerely say that it is in this spirit that I have written. Our first responsibility is to set our own house in order, and to set out to live in accordance with the light we have received, stirring up our fires of grace and piety and holy endeavor. But be Calvinists. I presume that you believe what you believe because you actually believe it, and have not simply inherited or assumed it. You have, I trust, thought through your convictions. You have searched the Scriptures to see whether the things you have learned from godly men are true, and you have anchored yourself at certain points of doctrine and their corresponding practice because you are persuaded that those things are true and right before God and that you will live accordingly.
If we have done this with a good conscience, then we should hold fast to our convictions and live them out to the praise and the glory of God. Enjoy these things! Enter into the sweet realities of the God that we know in His Son, Jesus Christ, and graciously defend the truths you have come to love and the practices that flow from the principles. You are not obliged to give them up any more than our New Calvinist brothers are obliged to give things up just because we disagree with them. There is and should be scope for us to speak together as those who love the Lord: “To the law and to the testimony!” Let us be ready both to learn with humility where we have something to learn and to teach with modesty where we have something to teach.
The New Calvinism is in some respects a splendid and many-colored thing. It contains within it some fearful tensions. It has within it some wonderful prospects and it contains within it some significant dangers. But remember that mere fads never last. I am far from saying that the New Calvinism is a mere fad, but there is an appetite for novelty in the world and among professing Christians that will carry people into this movement on a wave of enthusiasm. The novelty will not last forever. I suspect that when the freshness and the newness wears off, we will be left with many people asking at least two questions. Some will say, and are already saying, “What next?” They will look for the next fad, the next new wave, and will jump aboard and be carried on to whatever seems new and stimulating. But some will ask, and are already asking, “What more? What else is there? What am I missing? This is the God that I want to know and serve. How can I know Him more? How can I know Him better without losing that sense of wonder because of God’s love and grace toward me in Christ Jesus? How can I grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? How can I grow in holiness, becoming more and more like Christ Jesus?”
We need so to live and so to speak that when somebody asks, “What more?” we have a reputation and a relationship that enables us credibly to hold something out, to offer with humble joy the blessings that we have received, just as much as we receive with humble joy whatever blessings we may be offered.
So be Calvinists. Do not panic blindly. Do not capitulate foolishly. Do not strike wildly. Live before God and be determined to learn of Christ in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Serve the triune God and be ready to serve His saints wherever you find them. Ω
Over the last couple of days I have been posting some material on the New Calvinism, the fruit of a reasonable period of time trying to get my head around the phenomenon and seeking to work out my relationship to it (and to those who populate the movement at their various points on the spectrum).
Other parts of the series can be traced using the links below. Of course, all being the irenic types that we are, this will no doubt be the least popular of the posts . . .
Cautions and concerns
I also have some cautions and concerns about the New Calvinism. While enjoying some of the emphases and appreciating some of the engagement that these brothers have with the world at large, is there anything here of which to take a more careful and less positive account? As I sought to understand and appreciate the New Calvinism, I was asking myself whether or not there is anything that I might wish to strain out, anything which particularly needs to be tempered? Let me suggest some of my cautions and concerns that may ring true with you.
First of all, there is a tendency to pragmatism and commercialism. I usually enjoy the American entrepreneurial spirit, the “Go west, young man” mentality that I still see in American culture but which is often lacking in Europe (having said that, west of Europe is the Atlantic, so there may be some legitimacy to our cynicism there). However, I wonder if in some parts of the New Calvinism the entrepreneurial spirit has run amok. A principle of pragmatism is applied where it was never meant to be applied. I see a more commercial attitude toward “doing church.” Listen to that phrase: how do you do church? The idea is to get big, stay big and then get bigger. You need to market yourself well and make sure you have got the right people in place. So, if Brother Barry is getting in the way of progress and Brother Barry is a deacon, you remove Brother Barry and replace him with someone who can actually do the job that Brother Barry is not prepared or able to do. That is almost a commercial hire-and-fire model. You need to expand the business? You get rid of the wrong people and find the right people, bringing in workers with the right skill sets to move things forward in accordance with your church (business) model. At points it seems to be a principial lack of principle, as if where the Bible does not overtly speak to a matter we are free to do whatever we please. I am not suggesting that I have heard that said, but if you step back and consider, it seems as if that is how it actually works in practice. It is almost as if a Normative Principle of Life is being applied, as if to say, “If God hasn’t explicitly said this isn’t a good idea, let’s try it!” Here is the flip side of that desire to engage and get the gospel out. The questions becomes not, “What is right?” but “What will work?” If something seems to work, it must be good because it is advancing the mission. Someone might respond by querying whether there are Biblical principles to apply, but – “No! We have to get the Word out and we’ll use whatever means we can to accomplish that.” This can lead to a pursuit of bigness, of numbers, of profile, almost for their own sake. When Time magazine proclaimed the New Calvinism as one of the “ten ideas changing the world right now,” immediately the blogosphere was awash with self-congratulation: “Oh, wow! We’re important, we’ve got a seat at culture’s table!” Really? Is that what it is all about? Is that what we are pursuing? What happens when the world does not recognize us? Will the gospel have lost its power, or will we need to change things to win back the world’s commendations? Does God not delight to turn these things on their heads? “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord of Hosts.
Alongside and because of this we are faced with reams of statistics – they love statistics! Listen to some of the sermons: the introduction is, “Statistics say that this is important, so this is a good and relevant topic to deal with this morning.” This survey says this, and churches are like that, and so we need to adapt and respond to what this latest survey says about the state of the church and the state of the world. Furthermore, there is a showmanship about some of it. There is an element of performance, something overly dramatic or slickly cultured in some of the preaching and presentation. There are gimmicks that creep in at points and I do think there are times in which men in this movement run the church more like a commercial enterprise than they minister to it as the body of Christ.
The second concern is an unbalanced view of culture. A neo-Kuyperian perspective dominates the movement. Perhaps the keynote is this statement from Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not shout, ‘Mine!’” That translates into some parts of New Calvinist spectrum almost as a sense that this world is neutral territory. We are in no man’s land and therefore culture is all up for grabs. We are conquering culture for King Jesus. Therefore nothing is out of bounds. We can take anything this world produces and we Christianize it. One of the classic examples would be something like musical forms. We can take all musical forms, and the uniforms that go with them. We can apparently take the structures that communicate those particular things and embrace them as Christians. We can do this because the forms and the uniforms and the structures are all neutral and we just need to make them carry a Christian message. I think that this is over-realized, almost an over-realized eschatology, a confusion between what is “not yet” and what is “already” in the life of the kingdom. Such thinking has gone beyond the Scriptural norm. Some New Calvinists can be so concerned to be relevant and accessible that they become slaves to hipness. You read some of their books and everything is defined by a narrow target audience. You have to reference The Matrix and then The Lord of the Rings. Then you go for the artsy-fartsy bunch and reference Flannery O’Connor and then for the intellectuals by talking about C. S. Lewis. You get a mass of cultural buzz words, riding the wave of the latest big film series or the book that everyone is talking about. There is a sense in which our friends are doing something well here. They are looking into the sphere in which they are operating. They are trying to understand the language and the culture with which they are dealing and they are sincerely trying to bring the gospel to bear, but it sometimes feels like a checklist to prove how cool they are: “I’ve read all the latest books and I’ve seen all the latest films.” It is an almost-obsession that becomes very easy to mock and mimic. The assumption seems to be that culture is neutral and therefore up for grabs; we just need to use it as the vehicle to bring Christ to bear.
There are two particular areas in which you will see this working itself out: one is worship and the other is evangelism. Again, generally speaking, the New Calvinism does not embrace the Regulative Principle of Worship. It seems to me that the vast majority of New Calvinists believe that all of life is worship (that is one of the phrases you will hear time and time again). There is a sense in which that is true: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). But what happens if everything becomes worship in precisely the same way? What happens if everything is flattened out? Then there are no peaks or troughs in our experience of coming before God to bring glory and honor to Him. There are no high points and rather than everything being worship, nothing is worship. It is this very reversal that often leads to an aping of the world. A deliberate process takes place in which our worship will be as much like the activity of the world as possible (after all, all of life is worship) but we will just Christianize it. So if our target audience is basically indie kids, we’ll get an indie-style Christian band to sing Christian lyrics in indie style (or indie lyrics with a Christian flavor – either way will work) and then we will preach the gospel. This process is embraced at various different points in various different spheres. So with regard to worship, if we accept that we are always worshipping God and all of culture is up for grabs, there is no needed distinction between the sacred and the profane. That also bleeds over into evangelism because the issue becomes a matter of finding that which attracts people, whatever seems to work. As long as they are coming to hear and as long as we have claimed this thing – whatever “this thing”may be – for Jesus than it no longer matters what forms it takes. I am not suggesting that no people are being reached and none of them are being saved, but the underlying pragmatism together with this view of culture have a tendency to make evangelism drift toward becoming more like the world in order to win the world. Some have suggested that this is really a Calvinistic soteriology allied to an Arminian methodology. The motive may be good, but the means are wrong.
The third caution or concern is a troubling approach to holiness. There are two elements here. The first is what I consider to be incipient antinomianism. Antinomianism in this context refers, in essence, to those who do not believe in the abiding validity of the moral law for those who are in Christ Jesus. I call it incipient because it is there in seed form even if it is not yet fully broken out in doctrine or in practice. As so often, the fourth commandment – the matter of the new covenant Sabbath, the Lord’s day – is almost the first point of contact. Many of the leading lights in the New Calvinist movement would formally embrace or at least align themselves toward what is sometimes called New Covenant Theology. This is where we come back to the fact that these are holy men who seem to be able to hold some curious things in tension – things that, frankly, are in conflict – and yet continue to pursue godliness. They are not always saying that there is no law; often it works out more as a neonomianism (like that of Richard Baxter). We are repeatedly informed that we are no longer under law but that we are under grace, and – here is the corollary that is argued over – that what that means is that we follow Christ but that is not related to embracing and obeying the Ten Commandments.
The second element is related to this. An ongoing discussion continues about the nature of sanctification. Two men who have engaged in this most recently are Tullian Tchividjian of Cape Coral, Florida, and Kevin DeYoung in Lansing, Michigan. Kevin DeYoung is pushing for the more orthodox perspective, and doing so very helpfully, whereas Tchividjian is concerned that there is not enough grace in that process and suggesting more that we are sanctified by faith. You might well ask, “But can you be sanctified without faith? Can you become more like Jesus Christ without faith? ” Of course you cannot! This is a process in which we continue to rely upon the grace of God in Christ. It is in union with Jesus Christ in his death to sin and resurrection life that His power works in us. It is on account of our relationship to Christ that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, and we are then conformed to the image of God’s Son. This is a gracious relationship grounded in faith. So there is certainly a need for faith if we are to be sanctified, and we depend upon the grace of God every moment in our sanctification, but we are not sanctified by faith in the same way that we are justified by faith. Rather, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. A false dichotomy is being established between faith and duty or effort and I think that some of this goes back to Piper’s idea that we glorify God by enjoying Him forever (although I know that John Piper speaks very definitely of the need to pursue and attain genuine holiness as a part of our being saved). But why be afraid of the words duty and obedience and commandment? Our friends are so concerned to talk about grace that it is almost as if an overreaction has occurred against some of these notions of effort and obedience and duty and commandment, which are part of what we do as those who enjoy the grace of God in Jesus Christ. A concern not to be or become legalists has driven some back toward antinomianism. But I am liberated in order to be holy! What is the pattern and framework of my holiness? It is God as He makes Himself known in Jesus Christ, Christ being the perfect transcript of what God is like and the perfect embodiment of God’s holiness, a holiness also made known in His law.
Where this incipient antinomianism makes its entrance, together with this concern that we do not evacuate grace and faith from the process of sanctification to such an extent that you are left with a process that consists in faith alone, these tensions take root. As you work down and out from the men who seem able to hold these things while simultaneously pursuing Biblical holiness, the patterns of history suggest that succeeding generations will fail to hold those elements in tension and the result will be an increasing abandonment of genuine, full-orbed new covenant holiness. I am not suggesting that this is the intention, but I believe that this will be the result.
I recognize that by suggesting that many New Calvinists are in principle antinomians I will be accused of being grossly uncharitable: “How dare you call us antinomian!” But the very next accusation is likely to be that I am a legalist, so at least we are all square! However, in all seriousness, I have seen some insightful comments on this: someone had dared to use the word “antinomianism” to describe the kind of approach outlined above, and it had immediately sparked the usual accusations of a legal spirit in the man who had used the word. It was at this point that someone else who did not believe in the abiding validity of the moral law stepped in with a sensible and sincere response: “Why,” he said, “are we getting so angry about the use of the word ‘antinomian’? If they are right, that is precisely what we are. I do not believe that they are right, and so I would deny the label. But if they are right, then that is the accurate term for what I believe.” This is refreshing honesty! If then, we are right in our assessment above – and I am persuaded from Scripture and history that we are – then this is a nascent form of antinomianism. My fear is that this view will become very attractive to people who want the privileges and benefits and eased consciences of a Christian profession without the demand for holiness being pressed into their hearts resulting in the vigorous pursuit of godliness. Clearly this is not the intention of the New Calvinists by and large. They are not saying, “Let us sin, then, that grace may abound.” My concern is that this teaching may create an atmosphere in which liberty is made a cloak for license.
A fourth caution or concern is a potentially dangerous ecumenism. There is a concern for unity that may end up being at the expense of truth. Remember that this is an eclectic movement, a spectrum not a monolith. There are men all along the spectrum who do not see eye to eye on certain things. The fact that they can be united on things that are of critical and central importance is a wonderful testimony to Christian unity. It is a good and a healthy thing and peace among brothers is a genuine blessing and much to be desired and pursued. However, within New Calvinism a distinction is sometimes made between state and national boundaries. So, for example, the national boundary is what make us all part of the same kingdom: we are all Christians together. State boundaries, for example, are the distinctions between denominations, or with regard to certain practices or convictions. So some of us are more confessional; some of us are more charismatic. Some of us are baptists; some are paedobaptists. These are lower walls between states within a single nation under God, as it were! But who gets to decide which are the state boundaries and which are the national boundaries? I would suggest it is not just those who like the idea of state and national boundaries! My perspective or yours on what should or should not be a national and what should or should not be a state boundary might be different – perhaps radically different – from someone else’s perspective. Depending on who is allowed to categorize and to draw the boundaries, the result can be some very strange bedfellows.
In giving specific examples, it is necessary to identify particular individuals. In the last few years John Piper’s national conferences have included – among some who many of us would be more than eager to hear preach and who a few of us might cross oceans simply to hear pray – such speakers as Douglas Wilson and Rick Warren. These men are receiving what is in essence the Piper stamp of approval. Remember that John Piper is one of the men who is prominent to the point of pre-eminent, one of the figureheads of this movement. I would suggest to you that, however attractive their personalities and impressive their profiles, such men as Douglas Wilson and Rick Warren are moving – if not already – beyond the pale of historic Biblical Christianity. To bring these men in and to give them one of the most visible platforms in this movement is an exceedingly dangerous thing. Again, although Piper may be able to say, “I’ll take this but I won’t take that,” the result for many will be, “Well, Doug Wilson must be good to go,” or, “Rick Warren must be a credible guide.” It easily leads to a suspension of discernment in which one is tempted to take a draught of poison alongside a drop of tonic. While the desire for Christian unity is a good thing in itself, there is a potentially dangerous ecumenism in which some of these men are reaching beyond the bounds of what is safe and orthodox in terms of credible Biblical Christianity.
Furthermore, there is a genuine tension with regard to spiritual gifts. This has been identified even within the movement itself as a potential faultline, a point of division which could cause significant dissension. I think the men who have recognized that tension are right, but the present response is often to keep papering over the cracks even while some are driving in the wedges (please work with the analogy!). So for many the issue of spiritual gifts and the nature of the continuing work of the Spirit of Christ seems to be a moot point: it will not be addressed; it will be overlooked; it will not be allowed to become an issue. In a recent book a number of prominent confessional figures were interviewed (for not only the New Calvinists have their figureheads!), some of whom are working within or on the fringes of this movement. The only contributor to those interviews who specifically suggested that the charismatic influence is a dangerous one was Conrad Mbewe, a Zambian pastor. Almost no one else wanted to address the fact that actually this is a point of genuine tension, a point of potential and actual divide. But it is a significant issue. Indeed, it is becoming more so: just recently Mark Driscoll suggested that the “current global movement in Christianity” is characterized by four theological distinctives: Reformed theology, complementarian relationships, Spirit-filled lives, and missional churches. In the course of this address he made the assertion that “cessationism is worldliness,” a sort of rationalistic, modernistic, Cartesian, Humean skepticism with regard to the supernatural. Not long afterward, John Piper asserted that “God humbles Charismatics by making their children Calvinists; and Calvinists by making their children speak in tongues.” Ahem!
So who is this person, this Holy Spirit, and what does He do? How does He do what he does? When and in what ways does He do it? Is there any difference of nature or of degree between what He was doing in the days of the Apostles and what He is doing now? There are some men within the movement who would, I think, be very close to a more orthodox Reformed perspective (a narrower spectrum), but I think the broad stream of New Calvinism is essentially a continuationist stream. I do not like that language. I do not like being labeled a cessationist, because of the implications that language often carries. I do not believe, in any absolute sense, that the Holy Spirit has stopped working. We depend upon Him entirely, in every moment of our living, our serving, our worshipping. He is the One by whom Christ is made known to us and through whom we enter into and experience and enjoy our union with the risen Lord. We do not want to be driven into a corner where we become so worried about abuses regarding the Holy Spirit that we give Him up. If so, we would become absolute cessationists, and that would be blasphemous. We are in danger of saying, or of seeming to say, “We are so worried about abuses regarding the Holy Spirit, we will relinquish Him altogether. You charismatics may have Him. We will be absolute cessationists and you will be the continuationists.” That is a caricature of us that we must not embrace. But we must answer the questions: What is the nature of His work? What are the nature, extent and degree of His work in times past, present and future? Are we to expect prophecies, healings, miracles?
When people gather at some of the big New Calvinist conferences, some of these things get put aside. Everybody gets together and gives the impression of a quite complete unity (ironing over a few choppy patches during some of the singing, perhaps). But what happens when everybody goes back to their individual churches? At that level there are radical and significant differences in approach to these things. Ultimately, though, this is not just about whether or not one church believes in prophetic utterances and speaking in unknown or angelic tongues, but with the whole nature of authority in its relation to divine revelation. Where does God speak to us? How does He make His will known today? That has become and must be a flashpoint; it is another place in which many have a strong desire to hold together things that simply do not belong together. You will hear the phrase “Reformed Charismatic.” Some would suggest, with some credibility, that those two things are mutually exclusive, precisely because of this issue of authority and revelation. The questions surely arise, which of those two influences is going to take the ascendancy, and what will be the outcome?
My sixth concern is with what I perceive as a degree of arrogance and triumphalism. I say that exceedingly conscious that I am prone to the very same spirit, but – while recognizing our own frailties in this area – let me suggest more specifically what I mean. This is a young and seemingly successful movement. What tends to happen when you are young and successful? Often you get a big head and you think that you must be right and you just need to keep going and that everyone and everything will eventually fall before you. I fear a developing – and, in some, developed – sense of being above contradiction, that they have it made, and that the movement will continue to roll over all that stands in its way. This is true especially of some of those who are coming in just behind and around some of the figureheads. Such triumphalism breeds overconfidence. At times you will hear men speaking as if they have just reinvented the wheel. For example, one treatment of the church was introduced with the staggering assertion that there has not been a serious consideration of the issue since the days of the Protestant Reformation, the implication being that the gap was about to be plugged. Now if that isn’t a dose of hubristic nonsense, kindly fax me an explanation of what is! I think there may have been just the one or two books dealing with ecclesiology written since the Reformation. Could it be that our friend simply failed to read them? Again, it goes along with the enthusiasm of the movement: “Hey, look! I am just discovering these things!” “That’s great,” we respond, “but so have other people.” “I’ve discovered Edwards,” says one, “let me tell you what Edwards says!” “That’s wonderful!” we reply, “but other people have been reading Edwards before and with you and they also have some valid perspectives on what Edwards says.” Some of these areas or interpretations of theology have simply been co-opted by the New Calvinists. It is seen in their handling of history; I think at times they can give the impression if you just read history properly you will see that it vindicates the New Calvinism. This is not an isolated problem, and certainly not one from which Reformed Baptists are immune. When you read history, what you tend to find are the examples that say that you are doing the right thing right now, and so we vindicate ourselves: in my own reading, history proves that I am right. This is not a legitimate way of handling the past.
Alongside of this is a tendency only to dialogue and receive criticism within their own, relatively closed circle. They talk to each other, even about each other, they interact with each other, but if you are someone who has been judged or placed “outside” for some reason, and you have the temerity to suggest that one of the figureheads may have something wrong, then woe betide!
But the issue should not be whether something seems to be working or failing, whether it is big or small, or if one of the big dogs is barking; the issue is whether it is right or wrong. I do think that there are times at which the sense that this movement is young and vigorous and moving – really going places and fast – can blind some of my brothers to some of its inherent weaknesses and can close their ears to those of us who desire their good and believe we have something to offer them as much as they have something to offer us.
To be concluded . . .
 See http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1884779_1884782_1884760,00.html, accessed 20 Sep 11.
 http://theresurgence.com/2011/07/25/four-points-of-the-movement, accessed 20 Sep 11.
 http://twitter.com/#!/JohnPiper/status/108222441356136449, posted on 29 Aug 11.
Earlier this week I read The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith by Peter Hitchens. Today, in a curious conjunction of circumstances, I discover that Peter’s older brother, Christopher, has died. Peter’s book was written in the context of his deep difference of opinion with Christopher over faith, subjectively and objectively.
I just looked out my Christopher Hitchens books. I never made it to God is Not Great. Maybe I will sometime. My first Hitchens volume was Prepared for the Worst, which – despite the date that I have in my personal copy – I know I read while in secondary school. It was a loan from one of my teachers and I was delighted by Hitchens’ wit and skill with words (I remember it distinctly because I recall the conversation which followed in which I bemoaned the fact that Hitchens could get away with writing things with words that I was told were inappropriate, and that particular teacher replying that the use of a word by a writer like Hitchens in a thoughtful context made it, by definition, a suitable word in that context, an argument that signally failed to move the aptly named Mrs Ironside when I later employed some of Hitchens’ richer invective). I moved on later to Blood, Class and Nostalgia: Anglo-American Ironies, which has the more accurate date of “Autumn 93″ scribbled into it.
Justin Taylor, in a gracious obituary, writes:
He was a brilliant and entertaining man. He was enormously gifted, and in his final years he took those gifts and used them to mock God, using his considerable wit and sharp tongue to convince as many people as possible to do the same.
I knew that Hitchens was no believer, but I did not realise the extent of his antagonism to God. Perhaps it intensified over time, as such things are apt to do. As one who can recognise at least some of Hitchens’ contentions and antagonisms in his own history, I grieve that every indication is that he went to his grave and to his judgement with his brilliant stubbornness intact:
Even if my voice goes before I do, I shall continue to write polemics against religious delusions, at least until it’s hello darkness my old friend. In which case, why not cancer of the brain? As a terrified, half-aware imbecile, I might even scream for a priest at the close of business, though I hereby state while I am still lucid that the entity thus humiliating itself would not in fact be “me.” (Bear this in mind, in case of any later rumors or fabrications.)
I say this not because it is impossible that, before his death, Hitchens turned from his sin. Rather, I say it with the penetrating knowledge that, in the paraphrased words of (I believe) John Bradford, “There but for the grace of God goes Jeremy Walker.” I say it, too, fully confident that, if he did turn from sin, repenting of those aggressive blasphemies so characteristic of his later output, and if he put his faith in Jesus, the blood of Christ is sufficient to have made him clean. This, indeed, is the hope of sinners like you and me, and the hope of all the world.
My friend Alan Dunn has penned a brief piece trying to make Biblical sense of the tsunami. Does the Bible have anything to say about such disasters? Is there any hope in a world wracked by such tragedies? Alan’s answer, drawn from the Bible, is a resounding “Yes.” For a longer and more developed argument, you can download Catastrophes. I am grateful to Alan for his permission to make these available.
Existentialists have a word for the feeling of disconnection, the free-fall into the void of subjective meaninglessness, the disorienting bewilderment of detachment from everyone, everything and even from self. The word is “anomie:” without law, without order; chaos and confusion caused by a disconnection from everything secure, and familiar. All points of reference are gone and existence is intrinsically strange. The pictures coming from Japan depict anomie as people meander through once familiar neighborhoods now strange and severed from any point of connection. Anomie is the feeling of death, the severance of the unities that God created to constitute the fabric of life.
Does Scripture have anything to say to men when an earthquake and a tsunami so alter the landscape of life that one no longer has points of connection to the very earth upon which we walk? What do we say to people whose very relationship to the ground itself is severed?
First, we need to understand that God established a relationship between our bodies and the earth. God created man from the dust of the ground and named him “Adam,” meaning “red earth” (Gen 2:7-9,20). This “very good” creation is one in which Adam is essentially united to the earth. He is made of the same material. He lives in a symbiotic reciprocal relationship of mutual interdependence with the earth. By his labor, Man would cultivate and keep the earth (Gen 2:15) and the earth would respond, yielding sustenance for man’s life. Man is not man apart from his union with the earth. For man to be man there must be a cosmos, a physical world over which he has dominion. God relates to the earth through the headship of the Man and as goes Adam‟s relationship with God, so goes earth’s relationship to God. But realize is that man is not man apart from the earth. He is red earth, animated dirt, made of the dust of the ground: he is Adam.
Second, we must understand the impact of the Fall on man’s relationship to the earth. When Adam sinned, he brought the earth under the sentence of the curse (Gen 3:17-19). In grace, God salvaged the original created order, but the dynamic of death now conditions man’s relationship to the earth. Man still exercises dominion, but the life-union between him and the ground is broken. The earth was subjected to futility (Rom 8:20,21) and although by his labor Man still obtains his food, he also harvests thorns and thistles, and experiences physical dissolution as his relationship to the earth disintegrates and he returns back to dust. The earth likewise is in slavery to corruption – not to moral corruption, but to decomposition, entropy, decay, rot. It will wear out like a garment (Isa 51:6). The ground has been judged through Adam with the sentence of death. Therefore from one perspective, earthquakes and tsunamis are evidence of the Fall: a world broken, convulsing in the throes of death; a world bound to the destiny of its Adam – for as it goes with Adam, so it goes with earth. Adam and his planet live or die together.
Thirdly, we hasten to bring to bear the grace of God, for this fallen earth is yet the stage upon which God’s redemptive love and saving purposes are being worked out. Immediately after the Fall, the planet was salvaged from total death. God intervened and sustained the original order of creation and announced that He would send the promised Seed who would crush the head of the Serpent and deliver the fallen cosmos from the curse (Gen 3:15). That Seed has come. He is Jesus Christ: the incarnate God/Man. His incarnation is crucial to the salvation that He has wrought for this tsunami world. Jesus taught us to see earthquakes and tsunamis not only as visitations of judgment, or as precursors to the great earthquake which characterizes Final Judgment (cf. Rev 6:12; 8:5; 11:13,19: 16:18). Jesus also spoke of earthquakes using a hopeful metaphor, albeit a painful one: the metaphor of a woman writhing in birth pangs. Earthquakes are part of those things which are the beginning of birth pangs (Mat 24:8; Mk 13:8; cf. Jn 16:20-21; 1 Thes 5:3). With the coming of Jesus, this present order of creation has been impregnated with the life of the age to come and is in the agonizing process of giving birth to what Jesus calls the regeneration (Mat 19:28; cf. Acts 3:21): the renovation of this fallen creation into the new physics of the age to come. Throughout this age earthquakes, like labor contractions, will erupt and relax in limited ways and progressively intensify until the climatic contraction which will grip the whole world in a final hour of testing (Lk 21:34-36; Rv 3:10). That hour will entail the purging fire of judgment (2 Pt 3:3-7) during which the present order of things will be destroyed (2 Pt 3:10): loosed, untied, unhinged – when the unities of creation are finally severed in a cosmic death brought on by death-cursed Adam.
But there is hope for this tsunami world: resurrection hope, glorious hope!
In 1 Cor 15:44,45 Paul calls the resurrected Jesus, the last Adam. In resurrection victory, He has obtained a new order of human existence: life-giving Spirit – resurrected human life, a body alive with the vitality of God‟s Spirit as its animating principle. This is in contrast with Adam, the first man’s natural body. Paul not only contrasts our resurrection body with our post-Fall, sin-riddled, perishable, dishonored, weak body. He also contrasts Jesus’ resurrection body with Adam’s natural body which became a living soul (citing Gen 2:7 concerning Adam’s pre-Fall body). Jesus‟ resurrection body is more glorious than Adam’s original created body! The point is this: by His resurrection, Jesus has become the last Adam. Now remember, Adam is not “Adam” without the earth, the dirt, the planet which must be bound to him. Without the ground, Adam is not man. For man to be man, he must have earth. Therefore Jesus, the resurrected last Adam, must have a resurrected earth! This tsunami world has hope because Jesus was resurrected and His resurrected body is the guarantee of the resurrected earth. Originally the earth was created then Adam was taken from it and placed upon it. In the new creation, the last Adam is resurrected and the recreated cosmos of necessity follows in His train. Jesus’ physicality is this planet’s only hope. Jesus is the incarnate enfleshed Son of God. He was physically conceived in the womb of a virgin by the power of the Spirit. He physically lived in sinless obedience to God and succeeded where Adam failed. He physically died on the cross bearing the punishment of death that Adam incurred. He was physically buried in the tomb. He physically rose from the grave. He physically ascended to the throne of God. He will physically return at the end of this age to transform our bodies and all things into conformity with His resurrection glory (Phil 3:20-21). Ours is a flesh and blood salvation, a water and mud salvation, a space and time salvation. All who are in Christ inherit His Kingdom of unimaginable glory: a recreated cosmos depicted in the final chapters of Revelation as a pristine Edenic garden in which a resurrected humanity begins again, only now remade in union with the last Adam, gloriously conformed to the first born among many brethren (Rom 8:29).
God made the earth and then He made Adam from the earth and then Adam went through death back into the dust. Jesus, incarnate sinless Man, went through death into the dust and conquered death as He bodily rose again, and as the last Adam, He pulls the dirt which is this planet with Him out of its grave into resurrection glory. Death into resurrection. It is the paradigm of redemption, a redemption for which this planet eagerly longs: the redemption of the bodies of the sons of God (Rom 8:18-23) and the cosmic regeneration. The way to that glorious regeneration is the way of the cross. It is the way Jesus went. It is the way we who will populate the new heavens and new earth must go, and with us, at Christ’s return, so too it is the way our planet will go. But as the earth undergoes its own sentence of death, it will convulse and give us anomie. At times it won’t look familiar to us, and we’ll feel separated from it, as though it has turned against us. Yes, we’re being judged. But we who are in Christ have no condemnation and we’re being saved! We see the earth’s convulsions as eschatological contractions which will result in the birth of a new and glorious cosmos of resurrection life. This world has been impregnated with the life of the age to come. The Spirit of the risen Christ has been given to His spiritually resurrected people, and the world writhes in labor pains, awaiting the birthing of our resurrected bodies so that with us, it too will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom 8:21).
If we would experience that glory, we must get into Jesus. Jesus, the resurrected Lord, the last Adam, is our only physical connection to the world to come. This world and its works will be burned up, but all who are in Jesus, as those who were in Noah’s ark, will be saved to populate this same but revitalized cosmos where we will live and labor for eternity, making the entire universe the temple of our covenant keeping God.
So next time you sense anomie, that bewildering sense of disconnection from this world and this life, exercise faith in your risen Lord. The Spirit in you will give you a sense of being securely connected to the resurrected Jesus and assure you that your connection to Him is more solid than the ground beneath your feet. Lift up your head and know that your redemption is drawing nigh. And begin singing: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
It has been a little interesting to watch not just the immediate engagement over Rob Bell’s Love Wins but also the spread of it and the reaction to it. Some of it has been useful, but some of it has been a little desperate. It is as if some of the people with a reputation for being cutting-edge, relevant, front-line, ahead of the game, theologically savvy, culturally aware, movers and shakers in the Great Game of modern evangelicalism, are trying with all their might to prove that they are just that, and orthodox to boot. Recycled material, obvious material, lists of material (with their own contributions prominent in them) – all of it looking more like an attempt to surf the wave and demonstrate engagement than anything else.
Is it genuine concern for the glory of Christ? Is it pastoral concern for the flock of God? Is it genuine interest in the kingdom of Christ?
Or might there be a danger that at least some of it is an attempt to make sure that those writing and speaking are not left out, and that people remember that they are the great guides, the ones who speak truth, the almost-omniscient gurus who can be relied upon to keep their finger on the pulse and tell us how to think, or – at least – that they are still there and saying something also?
I am grateful for the men who saw this coming and blew the trumpet of warning. I think it is often helpful that others have spread the word. I am not so sure about all those who have joined the ruckus, as if merely to demonstrate that they have a horn, too.