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reformed theology

June 23, 2011

Ten Myths About CalvinismThis week’s guest on The Connected Kingdom is Dr. Ken Stewart, who is Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. Intervarsity Press recently published Dr. Stewart’s book Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition. David and I spoke to him about the Old Calvinism about the New Calvinism and about what the even newer future Calvinism may look like. Here is a table of contents pointing out some of the highlights of our discussion:

  • 1:30 - Overview of the ten myths about Calvinism
  • 9:35 - Purpose and audience of the book
  • 11:00 - Our polarized movement; who has the inside track on explaining and articulating the Reformed faith; too many Calvinist authorities
  • 14:47 - Clarification on Calvinistic brands
  • 16:15 - Did we blow the Rob Bell situation?
  • 29:06 - Theological accountability and Gospel Coalition
  • 31:42 - Fault lines in Calvinism

There is lots of interesting food for thought in this podcast!

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August 25, 2010

Here is this week’s episode of the Connected Kingdom podcast. This week we have a guest on the show—Daniel Hyde, author of Welcome to a Reformed Church. We talk to Danny about how he came to know the Lord, about the church he planted in California, about what it means to be Reformed and about sitting uncomfortably close to David. I was particularly glad to discuss what it used to mean to be Reformed and what it means today.

If you want to give us feedback on the podcast or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or another program. As always, feedback and suggestions for future topics are much appreciated.

June 14, 2010

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
- From “For What It’s Worth” by Stephen Stills

Every so often I’ve contemplated what a Saturday Night Live type of variety program might look like if the topic was “Christendom.” There’s definitely enough material. One of the recurring skits would involve some Christians from the 1400’s about to be burned at the stake. They would be visited by contemporary Christians who would thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how such a great sacrifice gained later Christians ________. You could fill in the blank with all sorts of things. “Your sacrifice has helped give us a world in which our children can learn theology from talking vegetables. Your suffering will all seem worth it when a handsome Texan with a great smile can renovate a sports stadium and broadcast feel-good, gospel-free theology to all the world. Thank you for your noble sacrifice, brother.” Tyndale might have been willing to face the stake for the sake of the Bible, but would he have faced it for a Bible-zine for girls that looks and reads like Cosmo?

I’m a writer, not a comedian, so perhaps it’s not that funny. But the point is that real people died real deaths to pass to us a heritage of the gospel. They were serious, dead serious, and weren’t in the business of printing silly bumper stickers. We evangelicals have long done a remarkable job of trivializing that heritage. Maybe this is what happens when the danger of persecution passes and we enjoy a time of safety, a time of freedom. Or maybe this is what happens when we lose sight of the seriousness of the gospel and the countless sacrifices that made it available to us, when we begin to replace theology with something else, something less.

September 02, 2009

Today we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming. I had something else to post today but wanted to put it on hold for a day or two so I can draw your attention to what I consider a very important article. It comes from Carl Trueman and is titled “The Nameless One.” In the past few months I’ve sat down again and again to write out some of my thoughts about the whole Young, Restless, Reformed movement we are experiencing today. But never have I quite been able to convey my thoughts on it as clearly and succinctly as I’d like. I’ve wanted to share both praise for what God is doing and misgivings for what I think we, the church, are doing poorly. Never was I able to strike the balance, so I just left it rotting in my drafts folder.

Trueman, though, has nailed it. Here is how he begins:

Over the last few months, I have been asked in numerous contexts what I think about the young, restless and reformed (YRR) movement(s) described in Collin Hansen’s book of the same name. I did do a quasi -review of this book some time ago, in which I argued that the existence of the movement seemed to indicate that all the hype surrounding the emergent business was probably overwrought and that there was no need for complete panic in Reformed circles.

In retrospect, however, there are a number of things which should give some cause for critical reflection on this new interest in Reformed theology. Let me preface this by saying that the more people reading the Bible, the better, as far as I am concerned; the more people going to church and hearing the gospel preached, the more we should all be rejoicing; and the more people studying the writings of Calvin, Owen and company, the happier we should all be. Only the modern day equivalents of the Scottish Moderates of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would grumble and complain that more people are spending more time hearing more sermons, reading more scripture and studying more classic Christian literature. But just because a movement has good effects does not mean that we should be blind to its shortcomings and potential pitfalls.

It’s probably best if you go ahead and read the article. You can do so right here.

In my many conversations about all things YRR, I’ve said time and again that it is, in my opinion, a uniquely American phenomenon. Sure it has spilled over to other countries, but its roots are American and its “heroes” are largely American. And still I’ve wondered if it will take a non-American to explain it. Several times I’ve spoken to non-Americans about the phenomenon and they’ve always agreed that the U.S. cult of celebrity is at least one of the root causes of what we see in the church. I think Trueman captures some of this with these words: “One striking and worrying aspect of the movement is how personality oriented it is. It is identified with certain big names, rather than creeds, confessions, denominations, or even local congregations. Such has always been the way with Christianity to some extent. Luther was a hero, both in his own time and for subsequent generations, and he is hardly alone. The names of Owen, Edwards, and Spurgeon, to list but three, also have great cachet; and, if we are honest, there are things which we all find in their writing which are scarcely unique to them but which we are inclined to take more seriously because it is these men who wrote the words on the page.” Said even stronger, “The world has Brad, Anjelina, Tom, Barack, and so on; the Christian world has - well, I am sure the reader is quite capable of filling in the blanks. All too often we’re a bit too much like the church in Corinth, with its Christian competitive equivalents to pagan Sophists.”

If we see the YRR movement as essentially built upon and around celebrities (many of them as flabbergasted as anyone by their sudden rise to prominence) we begin to see other concerns. “The supply side economics of the YRR movement is also worrying here, as it can easily foster such idolatry by building up a leader’s importance out of all proportion to his talent. Let’s face it: no preacher is so good that his every sermon deserves to be printed or his every thought published; but some contemporary leaders are heading fast in that direction, and this can only fuel their cultic significance for those needing someone to follow. Come on, chaps, everyone preaches a disastrous clunker once in a while; and many actually preach them with remarkable and impressive regularity. The world therefore does not need to read every word you ever utter from a pulpit; and not every electrical impulse which sparks between the synapses in your grey matter needs to be written down, turned into yet another expository commentary, and sold for 15% net royalties at the local Christian bookshop.”

We are seeing as well that as Reformed goes mainstream, every publisher wants its slice of the pie. That raises this concern: “Carrying on from this danger of personality cults, part of me also wonders if the excitement surrounding the movement is generated because people see that Reformed theology has intrinsic truth or because they see that it works, at least along the typical American lines of numbers of bodies on seats (in Britain, we’d say `bums on seats’ but that phrase rather gains in translation).” “It works” (a.k.a. “it sells”) is enough of a reason for many of the publishers to make sure they are publishing books to appeal to the audience, for musicians to play up their Reformed connections, and so on.

Trueman’s final concern, the one that gave his article its name, is this: “Finally, I worry that a movement built on megachurches, megaconferences, and megaleaders, does the church a disservice in one very important way that is often missed amid all the pizzazz and excitement: it creates the idea that church life is always going to be big, loud, and exhilarating and thus gives church members and ministerial candidates unrealistic expectations of the normal Christian life.”

The article closes this way:

Ultimately, only the long term will show if the YRR movement has genuinely orthodox backbone and stamina, whether it is inextricably and inseparably linked to uniquely talented leaders, and whether `Calvinism is cool’ is just one more sales pitch in the religious section of the cultural department store. If the movement is more marketing than reality, then ten to fifteen years should allow us to tell. If it is still orthodox by that point, we can be reasonably sure it is genuine. Indeed, when torn jeans, or nose rings, or ministers talking about their sex lives from the pulpit become passé or so commonplace that they cease to be distinctive, we will see if it is timeless truth or marketable trendiness which has really driven the movement; and, even it proves to have been the latter, we should not panic. We will still be left with the boring, mundane and nameless people and culturally irrelevant and marginal churches - the nameless ones — upon whose anonymous contributions, past and present, most of us actually depend.

I do want to give glory to God for what seems to be a clear work of his hand. He is stirring people with old truths that, for so many years, had gone into serious decline. At the same time, whatever movement there is to Reformed theology seems to be driven more by personality than confession or creed. My overriding concern with YRR from the very start is that it is a kind of ecumenical Reformed Christianity, picking only the bits that appeal. So we take the soteriology and ignore the ecclesiology. We cherry pick the bits we want and put the rest aside. While there is not necessarily anything wrong with this, my sense of history is strong enough to know that this is rarely a mark of strength. What coordinates the movement, what truly holds it together, is less a common theology and more a common list of heroes and celebrities. And that is not a firm foundation; though fun while it lasts, I just do not see how it can stand the test of time.

I would love to hear your impressions of Trueman’s article once you’ve had time to read it.

July 11, 2008

On the last day of the first round of my summer vacation, I want to offer up some links that have been collecting in my Bookmarks folder.

NoiseTrade

NoiseTrade is a site co-founded by Derek Webb that offers good music for “a few friends or a few bucks.” Their music is free to download if you pass along information about it to three friends or if you pay what you think it is worth. There are several good albums available and lots more I haven’t yet sampled. Among the ones that may interest you are Derek Webb’s The Ringing Bell, Sandra McCracken’s Gravity Love, Matthew Perryman Jones’ Throwing Punches in the Dark and Sixpence None the Richer’s My Dear Machine EP. Most of the albums are Folk, Folk Rock, Indie and the like.

Keep Silence

David Thacker recently sent me a couple of tracks from Keep Silence an album he recorded (with Roger Hooper, I believe) that features hymns arranged for the violin and piano. I undoubtedly do not have the most discerning ear, but I thought the arrangements were beautifully done. The songs are very mellow and worshipful.

The album is available from iTunes or Amazon (where you can also listen to samples if you’re interested).

Young, Restless, Deformed

For some time now I’ve been pondering this whole “young, restless, Reformed” movement in the church which is seeing so many younger people gravitate towards Reformed Christianity. All the while I’ve been wondering, are we really Reformed? It seems to me that the Reformed churches I attended as a child bore little resemblance to much of what is Reformed today. Is it possible that we’ve co-opted a word and ripped it out of its historic context? Not too long ago I was speaking with a seminary professor and was describing to him my experience of young, restless, Reformed and he, a Scotsman by birth (and at heart) insisted that this is not Reformed, at least in its historic sense.

It was inevitable that others would notice this and have things to say about it. In a recent [and excellent and must-read] article entitled A Little Bit of Comfort for Machen’s Worrier Children, Carl Trueman touches on this issue in his own distinctive way.

Nevertheless, I confess to ambivalence, to both encouragement and concern, at what Hansen describes. On the encouragement side, it is clearly wonderful that the old theology of the Reformed Orthodox and the Puritans continues to speak today. This is not a surprise to those of us who believe it is, well, basically true (forgive the outdated modernist use of the word `true’ at this point but, hey, I am an outdated modernist after all. So what do you expect?). It is also exciting to realize that this new zeal for solid theology does not always have to be combined with an uptight social and political conservatism that longs for the enlightened days of Genghis Khan’s domestic and foreign policies (hey, he was kind to his grandchildren…..) and the kind of women’s fashions made popular by Little House on the Prairie. Even better - the good news for us men is that, no, there is no necessary connection between vital Christian faith, drinking only Lite Beer, and buying your clothes based on recommendations from the fashion pages of Professional Librarian Monthly, no matter what the excess of wide-lapelled plaid jackets, kipper ties, curly sideburns and horn-rimmed glasses on your local church’s session might indicate.

Yet, as I note above, I am ambivalent at points. There are causes for concern even amidst all the good news…

He points out a few concerns that we would do well to consider. For example, he notes, rightly I think, that at the center of this whole move are a few forceful personalities. He notes also the absence of the church in certain key points.

I noticed recently that Dr. Scott Clark has a book coming out soon titled Recovering the Reformed Confession. Kim Riddelbarger says, “this volume will provoke much discussion about what it means to be Reformed in our doctrine, as well as in our practice (preaching, sacraments, catechism, worship, and piety).” I think books like this one will go far to help us understand this movement that is afoot!

June 24, 2004

Just a few weeks ago I had no idea who Garry Ezzo was and how controversial his childraising programs are. I had looked over his book “Growing Kids God’s Way” but had never really read it. Then Matt Hall posted about Babywise and a little bit about the controversy. This article drew me especially and I was amazed to see that this Babywise stuff is very nearly a cult!

If you’re interested in the subject, TulipGirl has some great articles that describe her own experience with it as well as the experiences of some other women. All their stories sound eerily similar as they come to the realization that what they thought was helping their child was in reality starving their child.

This Babywise thing sounds like yet another substandard Christian version of a secular program. Filled with bad theology, terrible exegesis (God forsook Jesus on the cross and in so doing provided the ultimate example of why parents should leave their children to cry) and bearing just enough resemblance to a Christian program to keep people happy, it draws in millions of Christians.

So if you are interested in the program, I would highly recommend reading through those resources before committing yourself (and your child)!