When I attended a Calvary Chapel I was always sort of perplexed by the tacit approval John MacArthur enjoyed in Calvary circles. His Reformed positions and his affirmation of some kind of Lordship Salvation put him at odds with a couple of Calvary distinctives. He was also one of the voices on KNKT who couldn’t seem to get through a broadcast without raising his voice. In retrospect I’m inclined to believe that for whatever reason there’s a designated slot or two for angry Calvinists on KNKT, and at the time MacArthur filled that position.
That people who listened to Calvary radio heard MacArthur had a couple of results. One was that people who left Calvary looking for something more left-brain tended to move in a Reformed direction. Another was that MacArthur Study Bibles proliferated with predictable results. I once attended a Bible study where the speaker read a passage of Scripture and asked what was intended to be a thought-provoking question (I think it was one of those “why did Jesus do X?” questions) and someone helpfully piped up with “Well John MacArthur says…”
This is of course one of the difficulties of study Bibles in conservative theological circles generally. They tend to foster the attitude that because we believe the Bible we believe that everything on the pages of the one we hold in our hands is equally trustworthy. The whole experience led me to be suspicious of anyone who wrote (or edited) their own study Bible. And of course to make distinctions between men who suggest that what they personally believe and teach is the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints while at the same time writing new books that explain that faith rather than recommending books someone else wrote that may well do the same thing better. But I digress.
Listening to Calvary radio again (this time on KLHT) I was surprised to hear Alistair Begg partly filling the John MacArthur slot. His Calvinist leanings aren’t as prominent, but he’s still inexplicably angry about something. Or maybe he just sounds that way every time I listen to him. I don’t know.
What struck me while listening to Begg over the course of several days was that his treatment of a text tends to follow a fairly predictable pattern: he reads the text, he explains a couple of key words in the original languages, and he offers up a bland cliche. There may be some additional material on the way to the third step: when I was listening to him he spent a fair amount of time on a story about attempting to ride an old horse named George. But without fail his treatment of the text ended in a cliche as surely and as finally as the Jordan River ends in the Dead Sea.
There are several possible reasons why he would proceed this way, and not all of them reflect badly on him. It could be that he’s struggling to be faithful to the text and at the same time attempting to say something accessible to his audience. He may or may not have been instructed in seminary to preach at a seventh-grade level. It could be that he’s very much in touch with what Paul meant in the original Greek, but entirely out of touch with his congregation, and preaching to an imaginary audience. Preaching is hard work; the bubble around the pulpit is a scary place; etc. But it may also be that he’s speaking out of his depth and is dealing entirely with theoretical knowledge. And having seen this sort of thing before, even or especially from powerful speakers who are careful students of Scripture, I’m inclined to wonder if that isn’t the case.
I don’t necessarily have a recommendation here. We apparently need professional pastors; the Bible is a difficult book; there is more in it than a person can experience and understand. And the underlying problem, that we want a relationship with God but instead settle for a relationship with a Book, is a bigger problem than having to sit through the occasional cliche.
I am traveling again and posting here will be light this week. I’m just back from traveling, too, and I’m still catching up on various pieces of Christian media. Oh and comment moderation; I’ve got a couple of items in the queue I need to follow up on, where people have called me on things (where I am probably in the wrong) and I need to figure out how to respond, etc.
But let me direct your attention to a three-week-old episode of The Dividing Line [link], where host James White calls in from Alaska, where he’s hanging out with Phil Johnson of Grace To You and Pyromaniacs [link].
Someone with judgment as poor and a heart as dark as mine should take great care before accusing someone else of sins, especially a sin as slippery as gossip, but I am not sure I can tell the difference between the story White tells about his long-time adversary Norm Geisler in the first half of this episode. It’s a pretty unpleasant portrayal of Geisler; it’s rather personal; and it involves appeals to sources unavailable. I suppose the thing to do is to call the person he quotes and ask them whether the story as White relates it is literally true.
Because of course nothing true is gossip. Right?
I have to admit I had completely missed the fact that Phil Johnson, executive director of John MacArthur’s radio show Grace to You, is not only much more than a radio-friendly voice. He’s an ordained minister, a book editor, and a grandfather. And just before the 33:00 mark White mentions that he founded the Pyromaniacs blog. Which I guess goes to show that I can miss even the most obvious of connections.
He (Johnson) says he picked Frank Turk for the Pyromaniacs blog because he admired Turk’s “wit.” I can’t imagine what this is. And I don’t know what it says about Johnson that he thinks Turk is “clever and cute” full of “grace and good humor.” Perhaps I just keep catching Turk on a bad day.
And finally, it turns out Pyromaniacs was started as a response to Johnson being “pilloried” on Michael Spencer’s iMonk blog, and got his comment deleted. He also says that the Internet Monk blog hasn’t allow comments since. Is this the same blog I visited today [link]? Hmm. That blog seems to allow comments, so there must be a different one.
Regardless, I’d love to see the original article; Johnson says it was (wait for it) his response to Spencer’s take on his take on an article by N. T. Wright on the New Perspective on Paul. I’d love to see what that was all about.
Before I delve into what follows let me say up front I have a lot of sympathy for the Calvary Chapel movement, and I’m grateful for the time I had in my local Calvary, etc. It was a great place to hear Bible teaching and a pretty good place to serve. Part of the Calvary experience included listening to KNKT-FM in Albuquerque, and even ten years ago I found the selection of teachers on KNKT peculiar. Most of it made sense: it mostly reinforced the Chuck Smith-Skip Heitzig-California-Sixties lineage of Calvary Albuquerque, there was a little bit from the other Calvaries in New Mexico, and a little bit that might appeal to Hispanics. There were also some odd choices: a man who never stopped talking about money (Hank Hanegraaff), an angry shouting Calvinist (John MacArthur), a Calvary guy who didn’t fit the lineage (Bil Gallatin) and a clinical psychologist who occasionally answered questions that in person Calvary pastors tend to reserve for themselves (James Dobson).
When I traveled to places where Calvary was relatively new I tended to find an unhosted Calvary Satellite Network feed [link], which featured no local voices and was then more of a pure Calvary platform: Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, and a host of Calvary stars. My analysis then was that the network was a low-budget affair, and Calvary was doing what was necessary to keep the money in-house.
So last week when I was in Maui I was surprised to find in the middle of the AM dial a Calvary station of sorts, KLHT 1040AM [link]. It turns out to be owned by Calvary Chapel of Honolulu, and like KNKT it is a non-profit radio station that plays commercials. I’m not sure how all this works from a tax accounting perspective, but that’s another question for another day.
Their programming is similar to what you’ll hear on KNKT [link], but different: instead of regional New Mexico voices, there are voices local to Hawaii, including someone named Waxer Tipton [link], who is local but not so far as I can tell affiliated with Calvary at all. There are also more Californians, including Bill Stonebraker and Steve Mays, neither of whom I’d ever heard before.
It was a little jarring to hear Calvary pastors over the Independence Day weekend in a place that’s not so Anglo and where only three precincts (out of 538) voted Republican in the 2008 Presidential election [link]. Note to Steve Mays: yes, America needs to repent; no, it was never righteous.
It’s also kind of sad to hear how prevalent the guys we used to call the “Chuck-alikes” have become. We all love Chuck Smith and are grateful for him and for the Calvary movement, but we understand that while teaching through every verse in the Bible is something of a Calvary goal if not a distinctive, Chuck’s teaching on some verses is shallow to nonexistent. And there are guys in the Calvary Chapel movement who, if you’ve heard Chuck’s take on a passage in e.g. the C-3000 series [link] you know what they’re going to say about the passage. You’re just left to wonder what filler story they’re going to use as an illustration. And sadly it seems like the bulk of the newer California/Hawaii guys are more or less in this mold. These twin trends (a tendency to skirt difficult passages; a tendency to serve up warmed over Chuck Smith material) don’t bode well for the Calvary movement long term.
All that being said, it was great to hear Calvary voices generally, and I was glad to be within range of KLHT on the south side of Maui. It was like seeing an old girlfriend in passing, and being glad she’s aging well, or something like that.
In a later post I’d like to take up the general question of Calvinism on Calvary stations, and the unpleasant topic of Alistair Begg in particular. Stay tuned.
I’ve been running short on blogging material recently, not because there’s nothing to blog about, but because so little of it has really crystallized for me. We’ve had a houseguest lately who has been talking about art in the Church; I’ve been reading Rob Bell and revisiting a lot of Emerging Church themes; some local churches are going through contortions; and I’ve been struggling with today’s topic.
If I had to make a list of interesting (not to say troubling, necessarily) trends in the American church today, I’d probably have to list the following, in pretty much this order:
- The decline of foreign missions
- Prosperity theology
- The perils of political engagement
- The megachurch phenomenon
- The decline of the Baby Boom generation and the rise of second-generation big-ministry leadership
- The Reformed resurgence
- The Emerging Church
So I guess I’d argue that what I have to talk about today isn’t the most interesting thing going on right now, but it is sometimes one of the easiest to see.
When I attended a Calvary Chapel I saw people come and go, but there were identifiable trends in the ways people entered the church and the ways people left. There were some new converts coming in; some of them had a by-the-numbers saved-from-sin born again experience; some of them left the Roman Catholic Church. There were also people who had stopped off somewhere else that offered simpler teaching and/or a more structured environment; we had a lot of people who had attended Potter’s House or had been through the mill at various local 12-step programs.
But people tended to leave Calvary because they were looking for one of two things: either they were looking for a more experiential Christianity, and they left for some sort of Third Wave Pentecostal or TBN-like church, or they moved in a more Reformed direction. At the time I credited the former to Calvary’s mild Charismatic leanings and familial relationship with Vineyard Christian Fellowships; the latter to the otherwise inexplicable presence of John MacArthur on the Calvary radio station in Albuquerque (KNKT). The truth is probably more complicated.
But the pattern then, and the pattern I see now as the Reformed resurgence progresses, was pretty predictable: people became Christians in an evangelical church, then eventually migrated to a more Calvinist church. Or as is the case here locally, people became Christians in evangelical churches, and then the churches themselves gradually moved in a more Reformed direction.
The thing that strikes me odd nowadays, though, is that when I meet someone nowadays, online or in person, who self-identifies as Reformed, they invariably have an “I used to be evangelical too” story. I have yet to meet anyone who became a Christian in a Reformed church unless they were raised there.
This question surfaced in a recent episode of The Dividing Line [link], where the ongoing feud between James White and George Bryson of Calvary Chapel Church Planting Mission (CCCPM) finally reached this question. Of course Bryson frames it his way and White frames it his way, and I’m not sure either of them offer more light than heat. Bryson incorrectly equivocates between all of Reformed theology and the Five Points of Calvinism; White objects but doesn’t clarify how exactly conversion (not to say salvation) happens in Calvinism.
I don’t have a soundbite here; it’s entirely possible that the world is fairly awash in Calvinists who are newly-converted Christians and I’ve just never met any of them, I suppose.
My opinion regarding Mark Driscoll had mostly been formed by his surprisingly frequent appearances in my reading and by his continual hovering online presence; I don’t know how to measure his impact online versus other contemporary Reformed lights like John Piper or John MacArthur, but he certainly seems to be taken pretty seriously by a segment that might or might not correspond to the Young Restless Reformed set. I really don’t know.
Anyway, Driscoll had surfaced in my reading in three different books, unusual for someone I don’t actually seek out:
- Back when he was still associated with various Emerging Church figures through Leadership Network he appeared as the pastor of Donald Miller’s church in Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to Miller since the follow-up Searching for God Knows What sort of left me dry, but in Blue Like Jazz Miller portrays Mars Hill Church as a healthy spiritual community and Driscoll as its conservative center. Of course Driscoll has since parted ways with the Emerging Church folks; I have no idea what the relationship between Driscoll and Miller is today.
- Andrew Beaujon spends a chapter or two of his Christian-rock travelogue Body Piercing Saved My Life [link] at Mars Hill and is somewhat amazed that people who sport tattoos and listen to indie rock attend a church where the preaching is culturally so conservative; Beaujon is the first author I read to pick through everything he heard and focus primarily on Complementarianism, the theological view that men and women are equal in some sense but fundamentally different and complementary; like most secular writers he sees this as retrograde as compared to the view that men and women are equal in every sense, or something like that. Like most people who take on Complementarianism from a liberal point of view he doesn’t explicitly state his own view. Beaujon’s book is available used for Amazon for a penny plus shipping ($4 total); I recommend it at that price.
- Lauren Sandler delves a bit deeper into the Complementarian narrative in the chapter she devotes to Mars Hill in Righteous [link]. She finds a couple of good narrators, including a woman who has a background in academic second-wave feminism (or at least whose bookcase functions as a kind of educated feminist bona fide) but who has married and moved into the Mars Hill orbit and can’t find her way out. She also finds someone who utters the deathless phrase “when I see someone covered in tattoos I assume they’re a born-again Christian.” I don’t know what Sandler meant by including this second person; I took it to mean that Mars Hill is a sufficiently complete subculture that the person in question no longer deals with anyone outside it. Sandler’s book is a tougher read; I am tempted to think she went looking for things in evangelicalism that appalled her so she found them, and she tends to overstate their significance. But more about that later.
But it’s the Molly Worthen piece from the New York Times [link] that really fills in a lot of the color on Driscoll, not least because it’s primarily about Driscoll, rather than trying to fit him into some other broader narrative. Worthen manages to place Driscoll in the evangelical part of the megachurch landscape with her Stetzer-Hybels-Osteen references and she focuses on the “muscular Christianity” aspect of the Driscoll media persona (she refers to his “hypermasculinity” and attempts to connect the worst of John Calvin’s Geneva to Driscoll’s Seattle) and portrays him as essentially authoritarian.
And as far as I can recall that’s the sum total of how Driscoll has been portrayed in my reading. I haven’t read any of his books and don’t plan to; from what I’ve seen of them they remind me of Skip Heitzig’s books: cleaned-up versions of sermon notes, in slim volumes, with well-chosen titles and cover art, probably best understood as an extension of the Sunday morning experience.
In the next post I want to get back to Albuquerque; remember Albuquerque? This is a series about a church in Albuquerque.
Here are a couple of quick blog postings, both of them related to Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) churches. The moniker is used by some fundamentalist Baptist churches but not all of them: I attended several fundamentalist Baptist churches in the South as a child, but none of them called themselves IFB then. Back then you had to piece together the relationships among fundamentalist Baptist churches according to what school their pastor attended and what missions board they belonged to.
Anyway, here they are: a posting from Wade Burleson regarding “authority” and its use in IFB circles [link]. Since he uses only the first name and home country of the woman who was being held against her will I have to assume that this is a story that has been cleaned up, simplified, composited, or what-have-you. Here’s the pull quote:
I tell you that story for one purpose. In my opinion, the greatest danger in the churches of America is that pastors and “leaders” have a warped view of authority. Rather than seeing “servant-leadership” and mutual submission as the norm for Christian living, pastors have this bizarre view that they are “God’s anointed” and if anyone does anything to cross them, then God will avenge them.
His use of the term “servant leader” here is a telling one, and is just as oxymoronic [link]as it seems. Hint: if someone tells you they’re serving you by telling you what to do they don’t get it.
Second, here’s a guest appearance by someone named Jason Wredberg regarding IFB identity and the perceived crisis facing IFB churches [link]. He talks about the tendency of IFB types not to know their history, much less their place in it or what it means.
Therefore, the cultural/separatist Baptist will functionally make the gospel an issue of secondary importance when he separates from someone like John MacArthur because of his associations but continues to invite Joe Evangelist who butchers the gospel but associates with all the right people.
In other words, as best I can tell, Wredberg is reconsidering what IFB folks call secondary separation: the announced separation from people who don’t separate from people we’ve already separated from.
I’m glad to see IFB types discussing topics like this in mostly straightforward language, and wish Wredberg et al well.
By the way: what is a “church planter?” That’s someone who expects all the honor due a pastor without the commitment implied by the term “pastor,” isn’t it? I have no idea when this term came into fashion, but I’m tempted to lump it in with “worship leader” in that category of terms we’ll someday wince to have ever used.
Anyway, I’m recommending both of these articles as evidence of what I hope is a healthy reconsideration of the cul-de-sac the IFB movement has wandered into; as someone who misses certain aspects of the Baptist churches I attended twenty-plus years ago (making me what? a post-Baptist?) I’m glad to see this tiny bit of examination within the cultural Baptist church, even if not always by the most doctrinaire Baptists.
Oops: I’m a BrianD reader, and he linked to the Wade Burleson article above about a month ago [link]. Credit where credit is due.
The last talk I saw/heard at Calvary Santa Fe’s Discern 2010 conference was Richard Mayhue’s talk on hell [mp3|stream]. Mayhue is a professor at John MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary [link], and has a substantial collection of messages available for download as mp3 files at his personal website [link]. This talk is based on a several articles he wrote on Hell back in 1998 [PDF].
Mayhue lays out six historical positions on Hell according to a matrix of who goes there (some nor none) versus when they go and how long they stay there (immediately, eventually, forever) and produces six positions:
- Simple/immediate annihilation
- Simple/immediate Universalism (here meaning that everyone goes to Heaven; nobody goes to Hell)
- Postponed annihilation
- Postponed Universalism
- Second-chance evangelism
- Resurrection and immortality for all
Mayhue gives the first five positions short shrift and dives directly into Scriptural support for the sixth position. He leaves his audience with the impression that the first five positions are recent (19th Century) inventions, and the Church was uniform in holding the sixth position “from the 5th to the 19th Century.” All Mayhue’s proof texts come from the New Testament; he doesn’t deal with Old Testament perspectives on the afterlife generally, nor does he deal with the Scriptural foundations of deviant viewpoints specifically, but rather characterizes them as being misunderstandings of technical Scriptural terms.
Probably the most interesting part of his presentation is the introductory section between his personal testimony and the main part of his talk, where he characterizes the emergence of German liberalism from the Enlightenment and its influence on modern thought within Evangelicalism via (if I understood him correctly) John Stott, John Wenham, and Clark Pinnock. He describes this as “Man beginning to think he could out-think God” and says
Imposing an intellectual framework on the thinking of God is blasphemy.
Or at least that’s what I have in my notes.
This seems to be another example of something I wish I had a name for but don’t: Mayhue basically sees systematic theology in the Early Modern Era (the Reformation, mostly) as good and glorifying to God, but systematic theology under the influence of the Enlightenment in the Modern Era as bad and blasphemous, yet the criticism he levels at it isn’t about the intent to glorify God or Man, but is rather about believing that God’s nature and character can be grasped by the mind of Man and analyzed in an intellectual framework. I think I would have to argue that the problem here isn’t foundational so much as it is structural.
Anyway, for that reason I found this a helpful talk, probably second-best after White’s NPP talk. Some listeners may be put off by Mayhue’s occasionally convoluted way of speaking and preacherly delivery. There seemed to be a generational split at this conference: the younger speakers spoke more plainly and evenly, while the older speakers were more given to dramatic flourishes and convoluted deliveries. Finally, some viewers may have noticed Mayhue’s resemblance to minor YouTube celebrity and personal injury attorney Lowell “The Hammer” Stanley:
but I suspect that too is just a generational coincidence.