The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism

Swooning too soon

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OK.  So everyone is raving about the fact that Time magazine, identifying what it considers to be the top 10 ideas that are changing the world right now, suggests that “the New Calvinism” is having the third most significant impact.  It expands on its notion of the resurgence of Calvinism here.  Incidentally, Justin Taylor points out that we have been here before.


All the right references are there:

Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don’t operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, “everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world” – with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle’s pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom’s hottest links.

All of a sudden, the Christian blogosphere is awash with excited bloggers posting that – guess what, folks! – Time magazine thinks we are important.  Honestly, it sounds not unlike a bunch of teenagers all swaggering through the school corridors because the prettiest girl in the school has been making eyes at them!

Should we perhaps calm down a little?  I am pleased that the force of a more Biblical Christianity is recognised more widely.  I think it is plain from Scripture and history that when God is at work, even the world will be forced to reckon with it: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6).  However, if Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, then do we need to get quite so excited about the fact that Time magazine thinks we are significant?  After all, the piece was hardly a glowing endorsement, although it mercifully lacked obvious and vicious invective against a more Biblical understanding of God’s truth.  Coming to this kind of prominence is unlikely to be a simple indication that we are about to take the world by storm; it is as or more likely to be a warning that we are about to face unparalleled assaults.  After all, we must bear in mind that an analysis of a disease needs to be made before the world mobilises to wipe it out.

Would it make any difference if Time magazine listed Calvinism as third of the most dangerous ideas currently being bandied about in the world, just below Common or Garden Totalitarianism and Islamofascism?  Would it make any difference to the ultimate progress of the kingdom if we were (a) hymned to high heaven (b) vilified to the extreme (c) given a stiff and thorough ignoring?

madam-bubbleCould it be that what seems to be the net reaction to this piece suggests we are a little too concerned with what men think of us, that we are too ready to receive – and, by implication, pursue or even crave – the applause and favour of men?  Could there be a danger of carnality in our reaction?  I remember Spurgeon’s warning – fairly black-and-white, but with some wisdom in it nonetheless – in which he suggested that we would be wise not to listen too much to praise, because we would then find it much harder to deal with criticism.  This is the man who faced his death confident that his memory would be execrated for many years, although a more distant future would vindicate it.

Getting a mention in Time magazine must not be the apogee of our ambition.  Let us not get flustered just because the pretty world winks at us.  She might just as quickly turn upon us.  Let us not be deafened by the applause of the goats and the commendations of the wolves.  Madam Bubble is as dangerous a foe as Giant Despair; the Enchanted Ground is as dangerous a place as the Hill of Difficulty.  Vanity Fair can turn a man’s head.

Christ is building his kingdom, and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it.  Neither do the articles of Time ensure it.  Let us not swoon too soon, but rather work while it is day.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 13 March 2009 at 14:07

What is it to be Reformed?

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When I reviewed Collin Hansen’s book, Young, Restless, Reformed, I asked a question about what it meant to be Reformed.

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 worship (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.

Scott Clark is even blunter than I am.  An interview with Collin Hansen has raised the same issue again for him.  Clark uses the label ‘Baptist’ to make his case:

You can’t simply redefine ‘Baptist’ by fiat and you can’t impose such a minimalist definition [i.e. “I believe in baptism”] on the word ‘Baptist’ because, after all, all Christians believe in Baptism. Defining it that way doesn’t tell us anything about the person using the adjective. It becomes meaningless.

The progression of Scott’s argument is solid, but it is – I think – clear that, by the time he has done, there are not that many people who can use the word “Reformed.”  Here is his thinking:

So it is with those of us who are identified with the historic Reformed Churches and with their confessions. Our people spilled blood for being called Reformed and for confessing the Reformed theology, piety, and practice. The Synod of Dort did not simply issue five canons against the Remonstrants, they also published a church order and they worked on worship and other ecclesiastical issues. To break into the Armory (where the Synod met) and to steal the Five Points from the ecclesiastical context in which they were formed and in which they were meant to be applied and to use them alone to define the adjective “Reformed” is just vandalism and identity theft.

I’m glad folk want to identify with the Five Points of Dort. I’m glad that folks are interested in the Reformed reformation. Keep coming. The road to Geneva is a nice trip and I think you’ll enjoy the destination. If you’re hungry, we will feed you. You don’t have to steal. It’s okay, we love you. Indeed, we’ll put a Geneva gown on your ministers, we’ll baptize your children in recognition of their status as covenant children and we’ll offer you communion in the body and blood of Christ regularly (the Geneva City Council is dead, long live communion). We have a polity, a piety, and a passion for the lost. You’ll love it.

It is interesting to see that – perhaps tongue in cheek – being Reformed involves (of necessity?) wearing a Geneva gown to preach and being a paedobaptist, as well as enjoying the Lord’s supper.  Do you have to sing psalms only to be Reformed?

st-pierre-geneva-2I am a Reformed Baptist.  Can I be?  I hold to the 1689 (Second London) Baptist confession of faith.  Am I allowed to use the label?  Where does one draw the line?  At which point does your standing in the stream remove you from the current?

Don’t get me wrong: I agree with the essence of what Scott is saying.  To simply hoick the label ‘Reformed’ on to any believer who holds to the five points (or even four or so of them) is to empty the phrase of much of its significance.  But where does being Reformed start and end?  Do Scott Clark or Richard Muller finally pin it down?  Is being a Reformed Baptist an inherent contradiction?

I agree with Dr Clark that being soteriologically Reformed is not enough to warrant the label, but I want to affirm my standing in the stream of historic Biblical Christianity.  All of which demands an answer to the question: if you need to (and I agree with Scott that you do need to), where do you draw the line?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 January 2009 at 20:52

Clarifying Calvinism

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 17 January 2009 at 23:02

“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

Calvin our contemporary

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john-calvin1Michael Dewalt at Calvin 500 quotes from Ford Lewis Battles as follows:

. . . what I am advocating is no antiquarian enterprise. What is set forth in the pages . . . however clumsily, is a life and death matter. Can the form of Christianity commonly known as Calvinism survive in the modern world? It cannot survive unless, first, it is known; secondly, believed; thirdly, practiced. Calvin, the theologian, was captive to his own time and place, but also transcends the sixteenth century. The more I study that great interpreter of Jesus Christ, the more contemporary I discover him to be, and the more dated I find so called ‘contemporary theology’ to be. (O’Brien, 187)

How historically myopic we quickly become!  How much we chase after the latest theological fads!  When we immerse ourselves in the most humble and God-focused men whom Christ has given to his church, we quickly find just how contemporary they are, and how dated contemporary theology can be.  The circumstances of mankind may change, but the heart of man remains fallen.  Those who pierce to the centre of things remain relevant precisely because they deal with eternal truth and not ephemeral experiences.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 18 November 2008 at 14:56

Christ manifested

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What is it to have Christ manifest himself to his people?  A sermon by John Ryland Jr addresses The nature and evidences of divine manifestations.  With echoes of Jonathan Edwards on the religious affections,  he provides negatives considerations, several concessions, and six assertions concerning the nature of divine manifestations, or Jesus showing himself to the believing soul.  He moves on to the effects and evidences of such demonstrations of the divine presence, before closing with some lessons.

Here is solid, Scriptural, experiential Calvinism of high order.  Ryland offers the following evidences and effects:

First: A deep conviction (proportioned to the manifestation) of the meanness, unworthiness, guilt, past and present sinfulness of the soul thus favoured; humbling its pride, and filling it with self-abasement.  This is exemplified in the language of Old-testament saints.  Thus Jacob, “I am less than the least of thy mercies.”  Job, “Now I repent and abhor myself.” David, “Who am I, and what is my father’s house?”  Isaiah, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.”  Daniel, “My comeliness is turned into corruption.”  And Jude, in the text, How is it, that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?

Secondly: A conviction of our entire dependence on Christ, both for righteousness and strength; thankfully falling in with the design of his redemption; resting with complacency in his plan of salvation; feeling our need of his mediation; and sensible of our weakness and insufficiency to follow the Lord, except continually upheld.

Thirdly: An assurance of the reality and excellence of the objects manifested; i.e. the person and grace of Christ.  They shine with such a divine glory, that, they needs must be realized.

Fourthly: A conviction that there is much more to be seen and admired in Christ, than has yet been manifested to the soul; and consequently an earnest increasing desire, to know, love, and enjoy more, which prevents resting in present attainments, and induces the soul to resolve never to stop its pursuit, till it shall enjoy all it wants, and awake in the complete likeness of Christ.

Fifthly: A glorying in this salvation, renouncing all other Saviours, and all other portions; as seeing that there is enough in him to satisfy, though in the want of all things; and that all other things are nothing without him.

Sixthly: A concern to honour and glorify, in all possible ways this blessed Redeemer; never thinking he can be exalted enough; longing that others may see, admire, love, and be devoted to him.

Seventhly: Tenderness of conscience, fearing the least sin, or rather looking on none as little; with a jealousy of our own hearts, and a holy fear of dishonouring God our Saviour.

Eighthly: Not only a spirit of devotion towards God, and peculiar complacency in his people; but universal benevolence, or a spirit of pure, gentle, humble, meek, patient, forgiving, disinterested love towards all mankind.

Ninthly: The transforming efficacy of these manifestations, producing universal holiness and love to all God’s commandments.

Tenthly: Preparation for heaven, anticipating both its enjoyments and employments; drawing off the affections from the world, and causing them to be set on things above.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 12 November 2008 at 18:03

Mencken on Machen

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Gary Brady draws attention to H. L. Mencken’s obituary of J. Gresham Machen.  Originally published in The Baltimore Evening Sun (18 January 1937), 2nd Section, p 15, it can be found at Appendix A here, and I reproduce it below.  “The Sage of Baltimore” tackles Machen fairly and squarely, making plain that though he despises his Calvinism, it has in it the virtues of cogency, consistency, coherence, cohesiveness and comprehensiveness.


“Dr. Fundamentalis”

The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D. D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year’s Day, got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him. To newspaper reporters, as to other antinomians, a combat between Christians over a matter of dogma is essentially a comic affair, and in consequence Dr. Machen’s heroic struggles to save Calvinism in the Republic were usually depicted in ribald, or, at all events, in somewhat skeptical terms. The generality of readers, I suppose, gathered thereby the notion that he was simply another Fundamentalist on the order of William Jennings Bryan and the simian faithful of Appalachia. But he was actually a man of great learning, and, what is more, of sharp intelligence.

What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works. Most of the other Protestant churches have gone the same way, but Dr. Machen’s attention, as a Presbyterian, was naturally concentrated upon his own connection. His one and only purpose was to hold it [the Church] resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.


My interest in Dr. Machen while he lived, though it was large, was not personal, for I never had the honor of meeting him. Moreover, the doctrine that he preached seemed to me, and still seems to me, to be excessively dubious. I stand much more chance of being converted to spiritualism, to Christian Science or even to the New Deal than to Calvinism, which occupies a place, in my cabinet of private horrors, but little removed from that of cannibalism. But Dr. Machen had the same clear right to believe in it that I have to disbelieve in it, and though I could not yield to his reasoning I could at least admire, and did greatly admire, his remarkable clarity and cogency as an apologist, allowing him his primary assumptions.

These assumptions were also made, at least in theory, by his opponents, and thereby he had them by the ear. Claiming to be Christians as he was, and of the Calvinish persuasion, they endeavored fatuously to get rid of all the inescapable implications of their position. On the one hand they sought to retain membership in the fellowship of the faithful, but on the other hand they presumed to repeal and reenact with amendments the body of doctrine on which that fellowship rested. In particular, they essayed to overhaul the scriptural authority which lay at the bottom of the whole matter, retaining what coincided with their private notions and rejecting whatever upset them.

Upon this contumacy Dr. Machen fell with loud shouts of alarm. He denied absolutely that anyone had a right to revise and sophisticate Holy Writ. Either it was the Word of God or it was not the Word of God, and if it was, then it was equally authoritative in all its details, and had to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Anyone was free to reject it, but no one was free to mutilate it or to read things into it that were not there. Thus the issue with the Modernists was clearly joined, and Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court, and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological Kaffeeklatsche. His operations, to be sure, did not prove that Holy Writ was infallible either as history or as theology, but they at least disposed of those who proposed to read it as they might read a newspaper, believing what they chose and rejecting what they chose.


In his own position there was never the least shadow of inconsistency. When the Prohibition imbecility fell upon the country, and a multitude of theological quacks, including not a few eminent Presbyterians, sought to read support for it into the New Testament, he attacked them with great vigor, and routed them easily. He not only proved that there was nothing in the teachings of Jesus to support so monstrous a folly; he proved abundantly that the known teachings of Jesus were unalterably against it. And having set forth that proof, he refused, as a convinced and honest Christian, to have anything to do with the dry jehad.

This rebellion against a craze that now seems so incredible and so far away was not the chief cause of his break with his ecclesiastical superiors, but it was probably responsible for a large part of their extraordinary dudgeon against him. The Presbyterian Church, like the other evangelical churches, was taken for a dizzy ride by Prohibition. Led into the heresy by fanatics of low mental visibility, it presently found itself cheek by jowl with all sorts of criminals, and fast losing the respect of sensible people. Its bigwigs thus became extremely jumpy on the subject, and resented bitterly every exposure of their lamentable folly.

The fantastic William Jennings Bryan, in his day the country’s most distinguished Presbyterian layman, was against Dr. Machen on the issue of Prohibition but with him on the issue of Modernism. But Bryan’s support, of course, was of little value or consolation to so intelligent a man. Bryan was a Fundamentalist of the Tennessee or barnyard school. His theological ideas were those of a somewhat backward child of 8, and his defense of Holy Writ at Dayton during the Scopes trial was so ignorant and stupid that it must have given Dr. Machen a great deal of pain. Dr. Machen himself was to Bryan as the Matterhorn is to a wart. His Biblical studies had been wide and deep, and he was familiar with the almost interminable literature of the subject. Moreover, he was an adept theologian, and had a wealth of professional knowledge to support his ideas. Bryan could only bawl.


It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis. Its inherent improbabilities are not sources of weakness to it, but of strength. It is potent in a man in proportion as he is willing to reject all overt evidences, and accept its fundamental postulates, however unprovable they may be by secular means, as massive and incontrovertible facts.

These postulates, at least in the Western world, have been challenged in recent years on many grounds, and in consequence there has been a considerable decline in religious belief. There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, “education,” or osteopathy.

That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty as [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again – in Henrik Ibsen’s phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mudupbringing, Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed – but he was undoubtedly right.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 27 August 2008 at 23:33

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