John Piper’s Conception of God (who ordains evil) Needs to Be Evangelized by Jesus

I just came across this quote from John Piper, yes that John Piper, the one I used to engage with constantly here at this blog and other iterations of my blogging life. In this quote you will read something quite despicable; but it’s not foreign to the Reformed tradition. It’s what you get when you have a decretal conception of a God-world relation; i.e. a conception of God that sees him inter-linked to the world in a hierarchy of being, wherein he is Pure Being, and as such in order to keep him pristine he can only relate to the world, as Almighty, through a set of decrees that sovereignly order the world according to necessitarian and mechanical levers and handles of causation. In this conceiving of things God, in order for his ultimate sovereignty to be affirmed must be thought of as the author of all things; including the most heinous evils we could ever imagine. This is the type of God John Piper thinks from, and unfortunately he thinks this God for all who sit under his teaching. Take a look at this disturbing quote from him; you’ll find if you spend any time at all with Piper that quotes like this are common-place with him.

Disturbing right? This is what happens to your doctrine of divine providence when you have an underdeveloped or ontotheological (i.e. philosophically based) conception of Godself; you end up with a malformed notion of God that looks nothing like the God that has appeared in the face of Jesus Christ—indeed, as Thomas Torrance would say of Piper’s God, I’d imagine: ‘here we have a God behind the back of Jesus.’

I thought it might be instructive to share a bit from Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink about the important role that the Trinity must take if we are going to responsibly and Christianly speak about God’s relation to the world (his providence) without falling into the deplorable error that Piper does in his misguided discussion of God. They write (we catch them midstream in a discussion about the same issue we are discussing):

Thus, for a long time the doctrine of providence remained detached from any proper biblical context. Even Adolf Hitler could appeal to it during the Second World War when he declared that, by providence, Germany was entering the era of the Third Reich. This is a deplorable example of how belief in providence, when isolated from its biblical context, can become a brutal ideology that plays into the hands of dictators and repressors. For such reasons, when reflecting on our faith today, we must emphatically articulate God’s providence in Trinitarian terms, from beginning to end. For all God’s acts ad extra—that is, directed toward creation—take place “from the Father through the Son in the Spirit” (Gregory of Nyssa, Ad Ablabium; NPNF 5:334). The common conviction that nothing happens accidentally, since everything is guided by a higher power, is not shared by all Christians and by many other spiritually inclined people. The doctrine of providence is no articulus mixtus, no “mixed” article that even non-Christians can to some extent understand and support. It has its own unique setting in the Christian faith—a setting of trust in the God whom we have learned to know in Jesus Christ and who, through his Spirit, shapes us to reflect his image. Only from this perspective can bold statements be made about the unlimited scope of God’s care. These statements never convey neutral information but are statements of faith.[1]

Kooi and Brink provide a proper framework through which Christians ought to think of God’s relation to the world (in his providential care) in and through; they rightfully identify what Piper fails to. Yes, Piper uses the language of God, but the conception of God he communicates, the informing theology he thinks God from, has more to do with a Stoic conception of God than it does with the God Self-revealed and exegeted for us in Jesus Christ (Jn 1.18). If we think of God’s providential care and relation to the world properly, as Christians, we do so thoroughly situated in the filial bond of the Father to the Son by the Holy Spirit; from the life we’ve been graciously invited into by the effervescent and effulgent life of God. It’s within this ‘space’ where we think about God’s interaction with the world; with us. If we approach God this way we don’t end up attributing the monstrous things that Piper has to God. We understand that God’s relation to the world is cruciform in shape, and we see God’s love demonstrated that way. We don’t think of God’s all-power in terms of the Actual Infinite or Pure Being God that Piper thinks from; we think of God’s power in terms of a God who humbled himself, became obedient to the point of death, as a man, that he might exalt humanity with and in his vicarious humanity that he assumed in the mediatorial and priestly humanity of Jesus Christ.

Piper has a doctrine of God at work in his understanding of providence and a God-world relation, it’s just that it’s a conception that is based on the god of the philosophers and not the God revealed in Jesus Christ. He means well, but his good intentions don’t make up for the despicable God he recounts for us in his understanding of God’s providence. He needs Jesus to evangelize his conception of God; if Piper had that we wouldn’t have to write up these types of posts.

[1] Cornelius van der Kooi and Gijsbert van den Brink, Christian Dogmatics: An Introduction (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 238-39.

*h/t. John Flett for spotting the Piper quote on Twitter. Truly, if you read Piper just for a minute you will realize that this quote isn’t cherry-picked from him, it in fact characterizes the demeanor of his theology.

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From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: John Piper on the Definite Atonement and Feeling Loved

The following is an interview with John Piper, and he is discussing the chapter he wrote (for the book: From Heaven He Came and Sought Her) on the glorious nature of limited atonement (definite atonement) and how it should be understood as a precious thing by both pastor and parishoner alike (if you don’t know what limited atonement entails, it entails the idea that God predestined and elected certain individual people for salvation; and further, that God in Christ only died for these people and not all of humanity, thus procuring salvation for them). I am going to briefly respond to Piper in this post. So in order for this post to have the full effect, you will need to watch this 4 minute video, and then engage with me as we consider what Piper communicates.

The thing I want to focus on is what Piper addresses towards the end of the video. That is, his belief that definite atonement assures the elect that God loves them, personally, definitely, and particularly.

It is easy to understand why his appeal, from this kind of ‘felt’ center in us, is appealing. We all want to be loved unconditionally, and in a way that is focused, and indeed, felt. Interestingly, the vantage point Piper “argues” from on this really has nothing to do with a biblical conception of what it means to be human; instead, he starts from two entry points: 1) What does it mean to be an ‘individual’ loved by God, and 2) How does this feel?

On the first entry point, the reason this is a wrong move is because the Bible, and God in Christ is not focused on individual people abstracted from all of humanity; instead, the Bible focuses on all of humanity (as loved by God), as refracted from the humanity of Christ for us. So the starting point for God, and the way he conceives of humanity, necessarily starts from the Son, who is the image of God (cf. Col. 1:15) who we are recreated in. The biblical motif follows the ‘one for the many’, not the ‘many for the one’. The bible grounds what it means to be human from the triune life of God; we are a communion of persons, created in the image of a personal triune God. So the personalizing component does not come from how we ‘feel’, or how we perceive a special elect status from God; instead, God’s love is personal and direct, because it comes from His personal life of love. And as we participate in this ineffable reality, through Christ by the Spirit, we are able to spread this life to others. And so the personalizing effect comes through lives that are in communion with God, who is personal; it does not come from a certain kind of socialized notion of ‘feeling’ (which is more in line with Schleiermacher’s ‘Liberal theology’ and his aesthetic conception of ‘feeling’).

I will have to engage with the second entry point in my next post; i.e. the point I identify in Piper as ‘feeling’. And I have already started to hint at how I will get into that further.

God’s Love V. God’s Holiness V. God’s Wrath V. God’s Justice V. God’s Mercy

You can’t have a “Versus” God! What I mean is, you can’t place God in competition against himself, and still end up with a Triune personal God who is love. And yet this is exactly what we have operative in much of the Christian tradition, especially in the classical theistic movement (the most immediate and popular example of this is in the teaching of John Piper, Matt Chandler, and others in this trajectory). You will often hear it said that God’s grace and mercy and love are on display in salvation (election), but his wrath and justice are on display in his condemnation of sin (reprobation); it is as if when these ‘parts’ and ‘pieces’ (the parts and pieces that when added together equal ‘God’ … some will want to call these parts and pieces, “attributes” or “properties”) are added together, that at this point we have God. But this is to, what the philosophers call, ‘essentialize’ God (the idea that he cannot be what he is without all of his necessary attributes or parts being present in order to equate to his being as God). But what is missing in this picture? Let me suggest the answer; what is missing is that God is not a conglomerate of attributes, instead he is one God, three persons. He is a subject-in-being who as Torrance says it ‘onto-relate’ or interpenetrate one another with the result that this ‘fellowshipping’ amongst the persons of the God-head (traditionally, ‘Monarchia’) is the shape of God. It is as God loves the other (or as McCormack might say it: give each other their being), that God is God; and it is this concept of God as love that then shapes the rest of his activities. There is a unity to God in this that is Tri-unity and personal; it undercuts a conception of God that places God in competition with himself as the classical theistic trajectory does. God’s being as Triune is his act, and his act is his being; if this is so, then he is personal, and there is no rift in his persons, since his being is one and not many (this would be tri-theism, or I might suggest social trinitarianism).

Anyway, I am just thinking out loud with this post. I am not really trying to explain this too much (obviously). But maybe you will have something to add or substract to what I’ve written. I will assert though, that if what I am saying is true (about God), then the theology that John Piper, and others like him, teach, is simply wrong!

§3. Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-willed god’: There is a history!

*To catch up read my first and second installments, 1) here and 2) here.

II

This is my second installment (well third really) on Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-wills in God theology’. My last post on this sought to introduce us to the way that John Piper, in particular, and Chandler otherwise, understand a concept that they both articulate as ‘The TwoWills of God’. I registered my concern in that last post about where this approach leads, because of where it comes from; and because of what it implies about God’s nature, and how he relates to his creation (us) in what has been called salvation history. This post will briefly sketch the aspect of where  two wills in God theology came from; my next and last post in this mini-series will detail what the implications are of this approach (for Christology, soteriology [study of salvation], etc.), and in this detailing I will offer what I think is a corrective—which of course is what we advocate for as Evangelical Calvinists.

The history of two-wills in God theology can be seen given definition through the thought processes of a medieval theologian named William of Ockham. He believed, in a nutshell, that God was one way in eternity (God’s so called ‘absolute will’), and another way in time-space salvation history (God’s so called ‘ordained will’). What this does is introduce a wedge between the God of eternity and the God of spacio-temporal time; meaning that the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ could potentially be different than the God behind Jesus back up in eternity (understand that I am speaking in oversimplified ways and rather crudely)—or, there is no necessary link between how God acts in eternity, and how God acts in time. The result of this is to place a rupture into the very being of God. Here is how Steven Ozment summarizes Ockham’s view (and he also quotes a bit of Ockham for us); we will quote this at some length:

Ockham’s reputation as a revolutionary theological thinker has resulted from the extremes to which he went to establish the contingent character of churches, priests, sacraments, and habits of grace. He drew on two traditional sources. The first was Augustine’s teaching that the church on earth was permixta, that is, that some who appear to be saints may not be, and some who appear not to be saints may in fact be so, for what is primary and crucial in salvation is never present grace and righteousness, but the gift of perseverance, which God gives only the elect known to him. Ockham’s second source was the distinction between the absolute and ordained powers of God, the most basic of Ockham’s theological tools. Ockham understood this critical distinction as follows:

Sometimes we mean by God’s power those things which he does according to laws he himself has ordained and instituted. These things he is said to do by ordained power [de potential ordinata]. But sometimes God’s power is taken to mean his ability to do anything that does not involve a contradiction, regardless of whether or not he has ordained that he would do it. For God can do many things that he does not choose to do. . . . The things he is said to be able to do by his absolute power [de potential absoluta]. [Quodlibeta VI, q. 1, cited by Dettloff, Die Entwicklung der Akzeptations- unde Verdienstlehre, p. 282, and Courtenay, “Nominalism and Late Medieval Religion,” p. 40.]

Ockham seemed to delight in demonstrating the contingency of God’s ordained power—what God had actually chosen to do in time—by contrasting it with his absolute power, the infinite possibilities open to him in eternity. According to his absolute power, God could have chosen to save people in ways that seem absurd and even blasphemous. For example, he could have incarnated himself in a stone or an ass rather than in a man, or could have required that he be hated rather than loved as the condition of salvation. . . .[1]

In order to keep this brief enough I will not elaborate too much, but let me give some reasons why I think this is important to know; and also for whom I am presenting this in the main:

1)      I am introducing this for folks who have never had a Reformation Theology class in seminary, for example. So this is intended to provide exposure for all of those who have been unexposed heretofore.

2)      My hope is that because of said exposure, the reader will understand that there is something more going on when they hear Piper and Chandler articulate two wills in God theology. In other words, the way that both Piper and Chandler present this, to the uninformed; the parishioner will walk away thinking that what Chandler just said about two wills in God is simply Gospel biblical truth without reservation or anyway to critically consider this. So my goal is rather minimal by reproducing Ozment’s thought for you; my goal is simply to alert the attentive reader and thinker that there is something more than ‘biblical truth’ going on in the in-formation of Piper’s and Chandler’s view on this particular topic.

3)      I want the read to understand that there is a particular problem associated with thinking in these kind of Nominalist ways (which is what the philosophy is called that Ockham articulates) about the nature of God. As I noted earlier, it creates a potential schism (indeed necessary) between the God of eternity and the God of time revealed in Jesus Christ; so as my favorite theologian says (along with Barth before him), we end up ‘with a god behind the back of Jesus’ who is not necessarily the same God we see revealed in Jesus (so when Jesus says in John 14 that ‘when you see me you see the Father’, that may or may not be true according to the implications and logic associated with a two-wills in God theology).

Conclusion

My next and final post in this series will expand on the problems associated with this approach; elaborating upon my parenthetical point in point three in the aforementioned. I will notice how this approach, which is purported by both Piper and Chandler to resolve some apparent tensions in scripture; instead exacerbate things in scripture by undercutting the most important point and touchstone we work from as Christians—that is what has been called a Theology Proper or Doctrine of God. If we get this point wrong—e.g. who God is—then the rest of our theological thinking and biblical interpreting will be found to be built on sandy beaches and not the rocky jetty that will stand under the most tumultuous theological storm waves one could fathom.


[1] Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual And Religious History Of Late Medieval And Reformation Europe, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980), 18.

§2. Matt Chandler’s and John Piper’s ‘two-willed god’: There is a problem!

I had intended on writing something on Matt Chandler’s conception of God with two wills. My primary means for interacting with Chandler’s view was through two sermons he preached in the past on this topic. As recent as two weeks ago, I had almost finished listening through those sermons, once again; I just tried to find them again, today, so I could finish them up, but instead found this note at Chandler’s ministry website:

Last year we removed all sermons prior to January 2006. Our Lead Pastor, Teaching, Matt Chandler made this request because, in growing in his understanding of the Scriptures, he believed there were some inconsistencies in our past teachings. We pray that the Spirit ministers deeply to you through the teachings now available. (here)

Unfortunately, then, I am unable to finish, and/or then transcribe any of Matt’s own wording on his view. So, I am doing the next best thing; I am appealing to a mentor of Matt’s (the guy who turned Matt on to Five Point Calvinism to begin with), John Piper. I know, for a fact, that Piper has significant influence with Chandler, and that Matt’s views on the ‘two wills in God’ would have originally come from Piper anyway; so maybe it is fortuitous that those sermons from Chandler are no longer available—we are now pointed to Chandler’s source, by looking at John Piper.

I don’t intend, of course, to do an exhaustive piece on this issue; but I do intend to do at least a few things with this short article. 1) I will introduce us to the Piper/Chandler definition and rationale for holding to ‘two wills in God’. 2) I will sketch some historical background to what gave rise to the theological furniture that both Piper and Chandler have arranged in their pastoral living rooms in the way that they have; I will do this by briefly looking at famed  Nominalist theologian William of Ockham’s articulation of a ‘two willed God’. 3) And finally, I will conclude this mini-essay with my critique of the Piper/Chandler and Occamist doctrines of God, respectively; in the process, I will articulate what I think is a better way forward—and appeal to an Evangelical Calvinist thesis, that Myk and I have written for the book. Let me just assert, here; that the primary problem with the Piper/Chandler view is that ‘it gives us a god behind the back of Jesus’.  I will attempt to articulate all of this at a level that is accessible, and primarily aimed at the non-specialist and lay Christian—but you are going to have to work with me.

I

John Piper, and by relationship (teacher/student), Matt Chandler, as classic Calvinists (in contrast to ‘Evangelical Calvinism’) attempt to interpret scripture with the supposition that God must have two wills; they are forced to this conclusion because of what appears to them as necessary contradictory teachings in scripture if in fact God is truly ‘sovereign’ in the ways that these two understand sovereignty (i.e. that God is for God, and God’s holiness and justice determine how he must relate to his creation as Creator—that is as a God of power and law, untouched by creation itself). For example, if God is ultimately sovereign over creation, then wouldn’t this demand that what God desires, God gets? And yet Piper and Chandler must deal with passages like this:

4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. I Timothy 2:4 (ESV)

Based on a passage like this, coupled with the kind of sovereignty of God that Piper and Chandler operate with; the obvious conclusion would be—if God always gets what he desires—that since he ‘desires all people to be saved’, that, indeed, all people will be saved! But this cannot work, based on P’s & C’s prior commitment to the Unconditional election in the TULIP. So they have a delimiting mechanism already built into their understanding of the way that God works; one that would seemingly be at odds with a straightforward passage like I Timothy 2:4—the apparent conclusion would be that they have a contradiction between the way that they think about God theologically versus the way that God seems to be acting according to a passage like the one in Timothy. Here is how Piper gets around this apparent contradiction in his view of God:

Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least “two wills” in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc. (full argument here)

Here we have the work around that Piper provides for getting out of this apparent dilemma between his commitment to his version of God’s sovereignty, and what scripture ‘apparently’ seems to teach if read in a straightforward fashion. So, for Piper and Chandler; God gives with one hand, and has already taken it away with the other hand. In this scenario, we have a God in eternity acting and willing one way; and then we have an ‘ordained’ way that God has chosen to work in time. So we essentially have a God who is in competition with the other; i.e. the God of eternity versus the way God has chosen to work in time.

I think this will have to do, for now. I will break this series of posts up into three posts; this, of course, being the first installment and section which is to introduce us to a basic view of ‘two wills in God theology’ as understood by John Piper, in particular, and his student, Matt Chandler (and others), in general. The next post will show how Piper’s view did not come out of a vacuum (as he himself notes in the quote I provided from him), and how, in fact, it comes directly from a medieval context (via William of Ockham). Stay tuned for section II, in the days to come.

§1. Matt Chandler’s Calvinism Given Historical and Theological Background … Choose You This Day!

Okay, here we go. I am going to get into this issue, this way; i.e. by having you all watch this video interview with Matt Chandler done by John Piper. My point in sharing this video is not to use it as a piece that I critique materially; instead, I want what Chandler says to take up residence in your heart and mind so that you will be able to recall this as a reference point for some of the things I will be getting at later. What I mean is this; Matt Chandler says something very explicitly and up front that I’ve known to be true for along time, but I am afraid that many who listen to, not just Matt Chandler, but many others in his tribe, are failing to realize that the informing theology behind what Chandler & co. communicate to the masses is plain old 5 point Calvinism. Now, some folk are totally fine with this, but other folk didn’t realize this to be the case (until now); and so my motive is to expose where Chandler and The Gospel Coalition are coming from, and then offer an alternative way to approach scripture through a better Christian grammar and theological grid. Watch the video, please spend the time to do that, and then I will close this video with some brief reflections and set myself up for further posts.

Click Here: John Piper Interviews Matt Chandler on Calvinism.

One thing I don’t want this to turn into is another slam-fest on 5 point Calvinism; I want to take us somewhat deeper than that. I want to take us into the Holy of holies, or into God’s life; since this is where it all goes wrong for a 5 point Calvinist (which I will establish in posts to come). This is, as you heard Chandler mention in the interview, where a need for a God with two wills comes into the picture. Let me just assert right now, if you have a god with two wills you don’t have the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus Christ! And if you don’t have the God of the Bible Self-revealed in Jesus Christ; then you don’t have the full bodied version of the Gospel.

Just be prepared to have your thinking piqued, and maybe your beliefs challenged (which I hope is what happens if you appreciate or are a follower of Matt Chandler’s teaching). Just pray that I communicate in a fair, firm, and then loving way…. thank you!

Rick Warren, with John Piper, on Hell . . .

Since I’m not a Universalist — Evangelical, Pluralist, or otherwise — I agree with what both John Piper and Rick Warren believe about Hell, watch:

ht: TCR

But that’s it. I don’t endorse or believe or agree with anything else that Piper or Warren articulate de facto [let me clarify something here, as an addendum, per Adam’s point below in the comments: I am not saying that I don’t believe that either Warren or Piper are “orthodox” Christian men who lead their congregations to the best of their abilities and own critical self-reflection on their respective theological thinking; instead I am saying that I don’t follow either fellow — which I think they are like in this — in their theological method, which I say in the following sentence. This is something I continually harp on here at the blog, and in fact our forthcoming book makes the same point, of which Adam and myself contribute chapters to this very section of the book (prolegomena). Adam’s concern has been bothering me all day, actually, and so I just wanted to emboldenly clarify what I meant right here . . . I hope this helps clarify what I meant by disagreeing with everything else these guys say, that is only so “in fact” not “in principle,” and that is because I think they have “started” at the wrong place in their theological methods, even though both are primarily pastors and not professional theologians, per se]. In other words, I am at such strong odds with Piper and Warren in theological method it’s not even funny.

John Piper's salvation, in mid-air

A really good brother known as, TCR, has given me my own post (A Portrait of John Piper’s God) on John Piper. TCR thinks Piper’s theology is wonderful, and in a previous post (to the one that he dedicates to me) he was extolling some things about Piper. Don’t get me wrong, I know that Piper loves Jesus with all of his heart; but that’s not the issue, his theology and then the spirituality that that promotes is. Here is a re-post on Piper that I did quite awhile ago, at another blog of mine. It highlights, at a pastoral level more than anything, why I find Piper’s soteriology highly problematic. Enjoy 🙂 :

How do you know if you’re a ‘heaven-bound’ Christian? I am intrigued by John Piper’s recent statement in a sermon he gave:

I am more concerned about nominal hell-bound Christians who feel loved by God, than I am about genuine heaven-bound Christians who don’t feel loved by God.

H/T: Glen Scrivener

Now I haven’t listened to the sermon from whence this quote is taken, but I have listened to plenty of other sermons from Piper to understand the context of his theology; and thus what serves as the informing impetus for his concern here.

There is a problem here. Do you notice what serves as the crux of Piper’s concern, “FEELING.” For the nominal Christian he is concerned that they “feel” loved by God, but really aren’t — according to Piper — at least in a saving way. And then the second group is Christians who don’t “feel” loved by God, but are — according to Piper — in a saving way.

My concern is for the thinking person (maybe a bit introverted and OCD), the person who might hang on what Piper is saying as their pastor. Piper’s statement is severely grounded in “feeling,” or in “subjectivity.” So my question is, is there something more than feeling — whether referring to justification (Piper’s nominal group) or sanctification (Piper’s second group)? If I was sitting “under” Piper, and didn’t have recourse to other sources of soteriology; I would be in a quandry (like many Puritan laity were back in the day). How does one know if they are in the first group or the second group; by “my feeling?” Yet this is what much of Puritan soteriology offered, and insofar as Piper mimicks this, what he offers his parishoners. Certainly there is more than feeling.

The answer, of course, to Piper’s dilemma, is that salvation is grounded objectively in Jesus Christ. That’s why John, the disciple who Jesus loved, can say:

“And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. ~I John 5:11-13 (NASBU)

If you look to Christ when you think of salvation, then you have a healthy view; if you look to yourself, before you look to Christ, then you have an unhealthy view. Piper, in my view, offers the latter kind — how can he not, he bases much of soteriology within a subjectively oriented view which leaves people hanging in mid-air.

Emerging Calvinism and its 'Favorite Trio'

**Repost**

There are a slew of ministries today that are promoting an enlivened Calvinism for the masses; whether that be by radio, books, pulpits, or the internet. Off the top I can think of just a few that are making quite the impact:

Each one of these characters has their own unique brand and emphases, relative to their articulation of Calvinism. MacArthur follows a more ‘Baptistic’ “Spurgeonized” Calvinism, with an emphasis upon good expositional preaching; and a call for holy living (he is more Fundy in approach and socio/culturally). John Piper is similar in many ways to MacArthur, although he is more steeped in the ‘history’ of Covenantal Calvinism drawing off of his background with the Puritans; in particular his appeal to many of Jonathan Edwards’ themes. And then Michael Horton, who is a full-fledged Federal Covenantalist who approaches things much more “historically” and “academically;” which is only natural given his profession as an professor.

Each one of these figures offers a different angle on Calvinism —some more consistent, historically, than others— but they also offer an certain commonality in emphasis; and that is, that they all follow the style of Calvinism codified at the Synod of Dordrecht and evinced through the Westminster Catechism. As far as communicating salvation goes, each of these fellows find their directive from the TULIP.

Instead of trying to unearth (re-invent the wheel) the history and theological (loci) focal points of Calvinism, of which there is legion; I just want to comment on this rather amazing phenomenon that seems to be sweeping large pockets of Christendom. And that is the in-roads and re-emergence that Calvinism seems to be making amongst both the young and old, Christian. Let me posit a few reasons why I think this is happening:

[B]ecause of the shallowness and decline exemplified in much of ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause of the lack of doctrine being promulgated within ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause people want some guidelines, they want some real-life structure and infrastructure for what they believe.
[B]ecause people are tired of hearing sermons about themselves, and they want to hear an emphasis upon Christ through biblical exposition.
[B]ecause there really are no other alternatives but to return to the “Old Paths” that Calvinism appears to offer.

I know there are plenty more reasons why folks seem to be turning to Calvinism (have any suggestions?), but by-and-large I think that it has something to do with the realization that ‘Evangelical’ Christianity (whether the style be: ‘Purpose/Market Driven’, ‘Emergent Driven’, or ‘Independent Fundamentalist Driven’) is becoming quite bankrupt in regards to providing a Christianity that is robust enough to answer the deep felt questions that the issues of this life throw at us every single day.

When people (and many are) get to this point where do they turn? Either they completely leave the church (and I know some are doing that, according to the “statistics”), become ‘Liberal’ and find the substance and community they are looking for in political causes and social justice issues; or maybe they see the arms of MacArthur, Piper, and Horton opened up saying: “. . . come find rest for your souls weary pilgrim.”

Do you see what I am getting at (and indeed, I am generalizing)? There has been a vacuum created through the “man-centered” approaches and [non]doctrinal forays provided by the broader portion of “Evangelicalism” for years. Calvinism offers just the opposite, by reputation and assertion. It offers doctrine, devotion, and depth for the disenfranchised ‘Evangelical’.

But what if the sparkling beacon of rest that Calvinism appears to be (for your average church person searching for depth) turns out to be just as “man-centered” as the “Evangelicalism” they are fleeing? What if “Calvinism” is promising more than it can deliver? These are questions that should be considered by the tired souls in search of the “truth” of the Gospel. But indeed, that is part of the problem, so many are ‘tired’ they just want rest; they just want someone to tell them that it is all okay, “here’s the doctrines of Grace that they have been deprived of for so many years.” People, tired people, especially, are ready to hear that! They begin to immerse themselves in this new deep culture, they read books by MacArthur —not the fickle flamboyant stuff they are used to, mind you— with titles like: The Gospel According to Jesus, or Hard to Believe. This isn’t the flimsy-flighty stuff their CEO’s, uh *#&% argh, I mean their mega-church pastors were slinging at them from their pulpits. No, oh no! This has guts, it sounds like Jesus’ kind of stuff in chapters like John 6; finally, the depth, the substance these folks have been longing for. No more of that Christless Christianity, they have finally come into a Christian situation where Desiring God is emphasized; a place where there is an opportunity for Putting Amazing Back into Grace!

Maybe what I am describing sounds curiously true to your own situation. Maybe you’ve even swung this way, believing that popular Calvinism was the answer to your “Evangelical woes;” but now you are realizing that maybe, theologically, there are certain problems (along with certain pros) that didn’t ap
pear at the euphoric ‘honey-moon’ stage you were in when first introduced to this ‘new-way’.

I haven’t (in this post) really elaborated on the ‘problems’ that are inherently endemic to ‘TULIP’ style Calvinism; but maybe I don’t need to, maybe you know those all too well. Certainly you recognize an array of variable “truths” packed into the Calvinist themes; but you realize that there might be something ‘rotten in Denmark’, that Calvinism still seems to be pointing you in the direction of yourself. Sure you have found quite a bit of substance, relative to the ‘old Rick Warren’ days; but now you are wondering if the ‘substance’ measures up to the right kind of ‘substance’.

Or maybe you have found what you were looking for in the halls of ‘Dordt’, and you think that, especially by now, I am full of hot air 😉 (indeed)!

Either way, let me know . . . what you think on this front.

P. S. By the way, I’m not an Arminian or a follower of Popular/Contemporary Free Grace Theology —- I am quite ‘Reformed’ (an Evangelical Calvinist, don’t you know)!

'Emerging Calvinism', and its Favorite Trio

There are a slew of ministries today that are promoting an enlivened Calvinism for the masses; whether that be by radio, books, pulpits, or the internet. Off the top I can think of just a few that are making quite the impact:

Each one of these characters has their own unique brand and emphases, relative to their articulation of Calvinism. MacArthur follows a more ‘Baptistic’ “Spurgeonized” Calvinism, with an emphasis upon good expositional preaching; and a call for holy living (he is more Fundy in approach and socio/culturally). John Piper is similar in many ways to MacArthur, although he is more steeped in the ‘history’ of Covenantal Calvinism drawing off of his background with the Puritans; in particular his appeal to many of Jonathan Edwards’ themes. And then Michael Horton, who is a full-fledged Federal Covenantalist who approaches things much more “historically” and “academically;” which is only natural given his profession as an professor.

Each one of these figures offers a different angle on Calvinism —some more consistent, historically, than others— but they also offer an certain commonality in emphasis; and that is, that they all follow the style of Calvinism codified at the Synod of Dordrecht and evinced through the Westminster Catechism. As far as communicating salvation goes, each of these fellows find their directive from the TULIP.

Instead of trying to unearth (re-invent the wheel) the history and theological (loci) focal points of Calvinism, of which there is legion; I just want to comment on this rather amazing phenomenon that seems to be sweeping large pockets of Christendom. And that is the in-roads and re-emergence that Calvinism seems to be making amongst both the young and old, Christian. Let me posit a few reasons why I think this is happening:

[B]ecause of the shallowness and decline exemplified in much of ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause of the lack of doctrine being promulgated within ‘Evangelical Christianity’.
[B]ecause people want some guidelines, they want some real-life structure and infrastructure for what they believe.
[B]ecause people are tired of hearing sermons about themselves, and they want to hear an emphasis upon Christ through biblical exposition.
[B]ecause there really are no other alternatives but to return to the “Old Paths” that Calvinism appears to offer.

I know there are plenty more reasons why folks seem to be turning to Calvinism (have any suggestions?), but by-and-large I think that it has something to do with the realization that ‘Evangelical’ Christianity (whether the style be: ‘Purpose/Market Driven’, ‘Emergent Driven’, or ‘Independent Fundamentalist Driven’) is becoming quite bankrupt in regards to providing a Christianity that is robust enough to answer the deep felt questions that the issues of this life throw at us every single day.

When people (and many are) get to this point where do they turn? Either they completely leave the church (and I know some are doing that, according to the “statistics”), become ‘Liberal’ and find the substance and community they are looking for in political causes and social justice issues; or maybe they see the arms of MacArthur, Piper, and Horton opened up saying: “. . . come find rest for your souls weary pilgrim.”

Do you see what I am getting at (and indeed, I am generalizing)? There has been a vacuum created through the “man-centered” approaches and [non]doctrinal forays provided by the broader portion of “Evangelicalism” for years. Calvinism offers just the opposite, by reputation and assertion. It offers doctrine, devotion, and depth for the disenfranchised ‘Evangelical’.

But what if the sparkling beacon of rest that Calvinism appears to be (for your average church person searching for depth) turns out to be just as “man-centered” as the “Evangelicalism” they are fleeing? What if “Calvinism” is promising more than it can deliver? These are questions that should be considered by the tired souls in search of the “truth” of the Gospel. But indeed, that is part of the problem, so many are ‘tired’ they just want rest; they just want someone to tell them that it is all okay, “here’s the doctrines of Grace that they have been deprived of for so many years.” People, tired people, especially, are ready to hear that! They begin to immerse themselves in this new deep culture, they read books by MacArthur —not the fickle flamboyant stuff they are used to, mind you— with titles like: The Gospel According to Jesus, or Hard to Believe. This isn’t the flimsy-flighty stuff their CEO’s, uh *#&% argh, I mean their mega-church pastors were slinging at them from their pulpits. No, oh no! This has guts, it sounds like Jesus’ kind of stuff in chapters like John 6; finally, the depth, the substance these folks have been longing for. No more of that Christless Christianity, they have finally come into a Christian situation where Desiring God is emphasized; a place where there is an opportunity for Putting Amazing Back into Grace!

Maybe what I am describing sounds curiously true to your own situation. Maybe you’ve even swung this way, believing that popular Calvinism was the answer to your “Evangelical woes;” but now you are realizing that maybe, theologically, there are
certain problems (along with certain pros) that didn’t appear at the euphoric ‘honey-moon’ stage you were in when first introduced to this ‘new-way’.

I haven’t (in this post) really elaborated on the ‘problems’ that are inherently endemic to ‘TULIP’ style Calvinism; but maybe I don’t need to, maybe you know those all too well. Certainly you recognize an array of variable “truths” packed into the Calvinist themes; but you realize that there might be something ‘rotten in Denmark’, that Calvinism still seems to be pointing you in the direction of yourself. Sure you have found quite a bit of substance, relative to the ‘old Rick Warren’ days; but now you are wondering if the ‘substance’ measures up to the right kind of ‘substance’.

Or maybe you have found what you were looking for in the halls of ‘Dordt’, and you think that, especially by now, I am full of hot air 😉 (indeed)!

Either way, let me know . . . what you think on this front.

P. S. By the way, I’m not an Arminian or a follower of Popular/Contemporary Free Grace Theology —- I am quite ‘Reformed’ (an Evangelical Calvinist, don’t you know)!