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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Where%2527d All These Calvinists Come From%253f

The Curse of Being Smarter Than Everyone Else

I thought this was pretty funny.  The comic strip is called Pearls Before Swine.  Click on the image to see a larger version.

Date Night, Yoga, and Carl Trueman

Last night our gym held an event called "Run Into Zen", basically a 4 mile run followed up by an hour of hatha yoga (don't freak out... it's Western style non-religious yoga... and anyway, I promise to use my improved breathing and core strength for good, not evil). Anyway, since I'm a romantic guy, I got a babysitter and took Karen over for our date night.  It's the kind of thing she likes.  Now, to be clear, nothing about either running or the half pigeon pose puts me in touch with any kind of inner peace.  But it did remind me of one of my favorite articles by Carl Trueman: Zen-Calvinism and the Art of Motorvehicle Replacement.  I link to it for your enjoyment.Oh, and while we're on Eastern religions... check this out.  Scroll down a little... apparently, I'm big in the Hindu blogosphere. Not sure how to feel about that...

Powlison and Help With Pornography

This coming Saturday the men's group at our church is talking about porn. It's a big problem in the church that oftentimes either doesn't get talked about (ask Matt Schmucker about the time I used the "M" word in the pulpit at Capitol Hill Baptist) or gets talked about merely at the level of behavior modification ("10 tips for avoiding lust").

Into the void of euphemisms and behavior modification techniques shines David Powlison's recent article, Breaking Pornography Addiction. Like everything that he writes it is gracious, realistic, balanced, and thoughtful. I highly commend it to you and the people you serve!

Point of Clarification... What Is the Church?

Hey Michael,

Welcome to the blogosphere brother.  Thanks for the helpful comments.  But my mind was sorta in the same place as Bruce McKanna when he wrote:when we say that the church has a responsibility in a particular area, but that I have individual responsibility for something else, then it seems that we are separating the identity of the church from the believer. In other words, the church is the leadership (ministry professionals) and programs, and this entity does things for believers, rather than the church as the community of believers.

I don't have a problem saying that mercy ministry should not be a focus of the pastors/elders, but I can't say it should not be at least a part of the spectrum of ministy of the church (local body of believers).You seemed to define "church" as something other than the collection of Christians covenanted together in a particular local congregation.  I'm still not clear about how something can be a mandate for all Christians and an entailment of the gospel and simultaneously not be a responsibility for the church qua church.  Could you say more about how you're parsing this, brother?

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 10 of 10

I first thought of these blog entries back in January.  I had had a conversation or two with friends in which they asked my why I thought there was this resurgence of Calvinism among younger evangelicals.  Of course, theologically, the answer is “because of the sovereignty of God.”  But I’ve never been convinced by hyper-Calvinism’s argument that because God has determined the ends, the means don’t matter.  Means do matter.  And as a Christian, as an historian who had lived through the very change I was considering, I wondered what factors had been used by God.

Before I go further, I acknowledge that in this blog I depart from giving answers that even Arminian friends of mine could agree with.  (For more on how those of us who are more Reformed in our soteriology can work with the more Arminian see a blog I wrote recently over at the T4G website.) If my Arminian friends agree that this rise has happened/is happening, then there is no reason an Arminian should want to disagree about the effect of any of the previous nine influences I’ve noted.  They may lament such influences, but they need not dissent from my suggestions, at least not for theological reasons. 

This tenth and final influence that I note will be different.

When I doodled this list back in January, I tried to imagine the influences chronologically, like a picture slowly developing.  Under God, where did this come from, who's given it shape, lines, color?  From the background noise of respect for Spurgeon and the reprinting of his sermons to the latest conference John Piper has addressed or blog he’s written, I’ve tried to trace out this path from inside American evangelicalism for the last several decades.  This last influence that I suggest is, however, less immediately obvious.  But I think it has been increasingly present throughout the last part of the 20th century in America.  And I think it has shaped the “theological climate” in which weaker, more wan versions of Christianity pale and fade, and in which more uncut, vigorous versions thrive.  It is the rise of secularism and decline of Christian nominalism.

This may seem as unlikely as saying that the Great Awakening was caused by the Enlightenment, but I think there is actually a little more reason to suspect this observation of being true.  My fundamental thesis is this:  Arminianism is a theodicy.  That is, Arminianism tries to exculpate God from the problem of evil.  It tries to make sense of God in a world with sin and suffering.

Much as the modern Limitedness of God and Process thinking has tried to get God off the hook by redefining what God knows or is responsible for, so its earlier ancestor—Arminianism—with the best of motives (honoring God) desired to make sense of God.  (See Richard Mueller’s excellent study of Arminius, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius:  Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy [Baker Book House:  Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1991] 309pp.)  In the course of constructing a theology and philosophy and of exegeting Scripture, Arminius & Co redefined term after term so as to both present God as the majestic being He so clearly is, and us as the responsible beings we so clearly are.  But they did this by reversing too many Biblical truths about who first chooses whom, and how specifically the choice is made, and to what end.

My point in this already too-long entry is not how much Arminianism changed, but how incomplete their labors were.  They said God hadn’t predestined and elected the way most earlier Protestant theologians understood Scripture to teach, but they didn’t say God couldn’t.  In a nominally Christian culture, Arminianism may appear to be a satisfying explanation of the problem of evil—“God’s good; it’s our fault”.  But as the acids of modernity have eaten away at more and more of the Bible’s teachings and even presuppositions about God, that answer is proving woefully insufficient to more radical critics.  It appears merely like moving the wrinkle in the carpet. A backslidden United Methodist may be satisfied with such teaching, but a Deist, a Buddhist or an atheist would have no reasons to be.  A. C. Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and their like will not for a moment be satisfied with someone saying “Well, God could have made this world without suffering, but in order to be loved with dignity by free beings, He decided He must allow such sin and suffering as we experience.”

Really?  Then hang being loved with dignity!  Forget the whole experiment!  It costs too much!   Furthermore, what kind of God NEEDS to be worshipped?  What kind of deity is this?!

And it’s this line of questioning that I think has quietly, deeply, perhaps subtly been re-shaping the field into one in which the half-measures of Arminianism are not even beginning to be satisfying.  They are attractive to fewer and fewer people.  Their adherents average age will grow even as their numbers shrink.  They will be recruited mainly from the churched, and perhaps even those who’ve nurtured grievances against God, for allowing this or that to happen.

Reformed theology, on the other hand, teaches about a god who is GOD.  The kind of objections that seem to motivate Arminianism are disallowed by the very presuppositions Calvinism understands the Bible to teach about God.  This God is sovereign and exercises His sovereignty.  This God is centered on Himself.  And this God is understood to be morally good in being so Self-centered.  In fact, it would be evil, wrong, deceptive for Him to be centered on anything other than His own glory.  There is no apology about this. 

This God saves to make His name known (read Exodus, or Ezekiel!).  This God has created us to display His own power and glory, His holiness and mercy to His creation.  Creation is a theatre for His glory.  This is the God of Genesis 1 and Revelation 22.  Even as the book of Revelation came not from John’s philosophical discussions in the king’s court, but from the crucible of persecution by worldly powers opposed to God, so this world’s increasingly open and categorical denials of God and His power will likely be met not by retreats, compromises, edits and revisions, but by awakenings and rediscoveries of the majesty and power of the true God who reveals Himself in the Bible, the God who made us and who will judge us, the God who in love pursued us even to the depths of the incarnation and humiliation of the cross.

This is Christianity straight and undiluted.  And the questing, probing spirit of the rising generation has, by this God’s grace, found this Rock.  May they stand upon it faithfully in these unbelieving times, until God calls them home to Himself. 

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 9 of 10

This is the one many of you have been waiting for.  You knew it was coming.

Love Your Enemies, published in 1979 was his dissertation from 5 years earlier.  Academically speaking, he's a New Testament scholar.  The Justification of God was published in 1983 from his teaching work, in part.  Professionally speaking, he had worked as a Biblical Studies professor.  But then, in 1986 a [gerund]-God book was published (like Knowing God, Loving God, Trusting God).  It was called Desiring God.  And with that book, pastor John Piper first put together for the reading public the adjective "Christian" with the noun "Hedonist." 

I remember when a friend first asked me about the book.  I had not read it.  And was both attracted and repelled by the thesis, as my friend enunciated it.  As the years have rolled on, and I have read not only it, but most of the books that the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN, has written, I find myself repeatedly taken with the power and goodness of God and His Gospel in Piper's words.  John has a Puritan-like ability to stare at an idea unflinchingly, watch it, and then watch it some more, interrogate it, and then draw implications out of it that are both convincing and surprising, and maybe even startling! 

John has taken his Jonathan Edwards-inspired meditations and published them on many different aspects of life and ministry--preaching, missions, suffering.  His books, Desiring God Ministries, the many conferences he speaks at, all have made him probably the single most potent factor in this most recent rise of Reformed theology. 

I hesitate to write that. 

All the factors that I have mentioned before John and his work I do think are part of the explanation.  But they are part of the explanation for how the wave, if you will, became so deep, so large, so overwhelming, but they were happening unnoticed, in the 1960's and 1970's and 1980's--all preparing the ground, shifting the discourse, preparing the men--like John--who would be leaders in this latest resurgence.  But it has been John who is the swelling wave hitting the coast.  It is John who is the visible expression of many of these earlier men.  His Desiring God Ministries is the conduit through whom so many of these others who have preceded him now find their work mediated to the rising generation.

Why John Piper?  What explains the power of his ministry?  All unction about God's truth comes from God.  All fructifying of our labors comes from God.  But, in terms of human observations, what sets John's labors off from those of so many others of us?  Theological precision meeting up with spiritual, life-consuming passion.  A profound hope imparting a serious joy leading to satisfying sacrifice.

The starkness of John's statements, the uncompromising nature of his sermons' calls and claims have captivated this supposedly word-weary generation.  John may have turned 60 not too long ago, but his discipleship, his Bible reading, and his preaching and writing have more of the freshness of the young convert's "anything, God, anything you ask of me" than they do of professorial overstuffed leather chairs with a retirement account to protect. 

If nothing else, when he preaches, John makes it clear that the sovereignty of God he's talking about is not the sovereignty of some musty philosophical argument.  No, it's the kind of dangerous sovereignty that means God may demand anything--or everything--from you at any time.  (And God will never demand as much as He's already given.)  And it's the kind of comforting sovereignty which points us to God's kind providential care of his own, and which allows the believer to get through some otherwise desperate nights by considering Christ's love at Calvary.

When everyone else has been out polling to see what people want to hear, or at least how they want to hear it, John has been meditating on Romans, and his own heart, and life as he sees and knows it.  And he has been unsparing in reporting what he finds, whether it has to do with the greatness of God, or the foolishness of our own tiny goals and ambitions.

When all those seminarians and ministers in their 20's stood up at Together for the Gospel in April of 2006, if I couldn't give a 10-part answer, but if I had to give a 2-word human explanation for their presence there, I know what two words I would utter: "John Piper."

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 8 of 10

Among the popular Christian teachers and preachers of the early and mid-20th century who utilized the radio, and later, television, few if any were known to be champions of the doctrines of grace.  Truett & Criswell among the Baptists, Walter A. Maier among the Lutherans, Charles Allen of the Methodists, Fosdick, MacCartney and Barnhouse among the Presbyterians, and of course Rome's Fulton Sheen filled the airwaves of America in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.  Radio gave way to television.  Liberals and Catholics, evangelicals and fundamentalists all had their programs; but few if any were distinguished by the kind of clear Spurgeonic championing of a Calvinistic gospel (as Lloyd-Jones was doing in London).

But in the 1960s and 1970s two men were raised up whose ministries were to last for decades, touching thousands of ministers and shaping them.  One was a paedobaptist covenantalist, the other a dispensationalist.  In 1965 or 1970, their commonalities might not have been so evident.  But over the passing years and decades, as these ministries grew and prospered, as more and more of their teaching was stored and circulated on new technologies (cassette tapes, cd's, internet MP3 files), as new depths of questioning orthodox belief were reached, that which these men have had in common became more apparent.

New technologies allowed their teaching to be stored and re-listened to or passed around in a way mere broadcasts could not be.  Furthermore, as these technologies have continued to develop, they have become more convenient to access.  And these teachers have used these technologies to defend historic protestant understandings of the Bible, and especially of the Gospel.  The result is that the teaching ministries of RC Sproul and John MacArthur seem to only be increasing in their influence.  From the east coast and the west, among Presbyterians and nondenominational types, and everything literally in between Florida and California, the teaching ministries of these two men have had a quiet, but consistently compounding effect for almost 40 years now.  Their conferences are attended by thousands.  Their books are legion.  Their characters are, by God's grace, unquestioned. 

Certainly each of these two men is one of the most significant teachers of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of evangelical ministers, and have been so for some decades now.  Their work has been more steady than spectacular, more quiet and consistent than sudden and electrifying.  More Wesley than Whitefield (in manner).  But when one looks at thousands of young evangelicals who identify with the doctrines of grace, there is no doubt that behind many of them stand the ministries of these two teachers of the Word--John MacArthur and RC Sproul.

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 7 of 10

So far in this series we've considered influences from the Presbyterian or Baptist streams.  It may surprise some to hear that I think one of the main reasons for the resurgences of Calvinism in American evangelicalism in the 1970s and 1980s came from Episcopalians!  Historians know that Episcopalians (Anglicans) are historically a reformed denomination, but few Americans today would associate Episcopalianism or Anglicanism with Reformed theology.  That reflects both our ignorance of history, and how much the Anglican tradition has changed over the centuries (especially with the rise of Anglo-Catholicism and theological Liberalism in the 19th century). 

Nevertheless, Thomas Cranmer (the first protestant Archbishop of Canterbury) was a reformed theologian.  The 39 Articles (the Church's statement of faith) is a clearly Protestant, Calvinistic statement.  The Puritan movement was largely a movement of Anglicans.  The Westminster Confession was written for the Church of England.  And Richard Sibbes was an Anglican!!

Anyway, it should not surprise us, therefore, that the English church has so strongly contributed to the revival of Calvinism in English-speaking America.  Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Banner of Truth--all of these are British influences.  But in 1973 Hodder & Stoughton in England, and IVP in the US printed a book which had a large immediate effect, and an even larger longer-term effect.  Did you notice how the 1970s and 1980s saw a number of books [gerund] God? Like Loving God, Desiring God, Trusting God.  Where did that trend come from?

It came from J. I. Packer's book, Knowing God.  It was published in 1973.  And it has continued to sell, year after year, to seminarians, small-group leaders, Christian study groups.   It has been read by hundreds of thousands of Christians.  Packer has written many other things which have made him the current grandfather of this reformed movement.  (He just turned 81 day before yesterday.  Pray for more years of health and strength and ministry.)  Many of us have disagreed with his work with ECT, but there is no denying that from his introduction to Owen's Death of Death to his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, to his many published articles on theology and history, Packer has been one of the best and clearest and most popular theological tutors of those Christians who've grown up in the evangelicalism of the 1980s & 1990s.

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 6 of 10

In the mid-twentieth century, Calvinism was at a low ebb in America (at least outside of Western Michigan!).  I've suggested in this series some factors which explain something of its resurgence.  The last one I suggested in the 1970s was the Inerrancy Controversy.  In the early days of that--you could say in part, as some of that controversy's earliest fruit (even before the turn-around of the Missouri Synod Lutherans and long before the recommitted conservatism of the Southern Baptist Convention's leadership) was the founding of the Presbyterian Church in America

Born out of theological controversy in what was then the southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS), representatives of 260 congregations met together in December of 1973 to form what would soon be re-named as the Presbyterian Church in America.  Throughout the 1970s this connection of churches grew, mushrooming in the 1980s and 1990s.  In its numbers are found many who were once members of Methodist, Baptist and Episcopalian churches.  These churches (nearly 1500 of them at last count) have over 300,000 communicant members, and far more in attendance at their churches. 

The official doctrinal standard of the PCA is a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document so associated with the history of Calvinism that it could almost be said to define it in the English-speaking world.  This connection of churches became the home to well-known evangelical Calvinists such as D. James Kennedy and James Montgomery Boice.  It's seminary grew in size and influence (Covenant Theological Seminary) and Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, Orlando, Charlotte) though officially independent, has functioned since the 1970s as the training ground for many PCA ministers.  These churches are marked by aggressive evangelism and missions.  We've already considered Evangelism Explosion and the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (Ft. Lauderdale), but there are many others that became leaders nationally in evangelism.  Briarwood Presbyterian (Birmingham, AL) the location of the denomination's organizing meeting, has also been a vibrant evangelistic church.  Campus Outreach has grown out of the ministries of that congregation.  Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is also a PCA congregation.  Redeemer is a leader in teaching church planting to Presbtyerians and other evangelicals.  Reformed University Fellowship is the very effective student arm of the PCA, prominent especially in southern universities.  By the late 1990's you could almost assume that the most seriously Bible-preaching and evangelistic congregations near major university campuses would not be Bible churches, or Baptist churches, but PCA congregations.  There is no doubt that for the last 30 years, one of the major factors in the resurgence of Calvinism in American evangelicalism has been the organizing and growth of the PCA.

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 5 of 10

In case you hadn't noticed, I've been attempting to reconstruct the history of the resurgence of Calvinism among younger evangelicals in the late 20th century, and I've been attempting to do this even in the order of these posts.  So I'm not suggesting that the first (or the tenth) reason I'll give is the most important.  Rather, I'm suggesting that in the 1940's there was little encouragement, though there were Spurgeon re-prints.  Then there was added the increasingly known preaching of Lloyd-Jones.  To that, by the late 1950's, you could add the re-prints of Banner of Truth.  Then, in the 1960's & 1970's, I have suggested that the rise of Evangelism Explosion was quietly undermining one of the main objections American evangelicals had to a Calvinistic soteriology.

As we move into the 1970's and 1980's I would suggest that another main cause for the renewed popularity of Calvinism came through the Inerrancy Controversy.  Controversy over the authority of Scripture has always been there.  From the early church to the Reformation, various challenges to Scripture's authority were met and defenses erected.  From the rising deism inside "Christian" countries in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the early work of Biblical critics in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible-believing Christians have had to articulate their understanding of God's infallible working through sinful humans to compose His perfect Scriptures.  From Gaussen in Geneva to Warfield in Princeton, the 19th-century churches produced careful defenses of the inerrancy of the Bible.

Controversy over the Bible has always been with us.  But it is the storm summarized and energized by Harold Lindsell's 1976 Battle for the Bible that I specifically have in mind.  (See the 9Marks website under articles for an annotated bibliography on this issue.) The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) was already in the depths of the storm by this time.  The Southern Baptist Convention was just entering it.  And evangelicalism at large became galvinized by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy.  Many of the most stalwart defenders of inerrancy were not Calvinists.  But many were.  Through this controversy, Jim Boice, RC Sproul, Jim Packer, Carl F. H. Henry, Roger Nicole and many other Calvinistic theologians were given larger audiences, especially among ministers.   Old Princeton (especially the Hodges, Warfield & Machen) was re-introduced to a new generation. 

But there was more to it all than young ministers beginning to read a Hodge here and there, or Carl Henry's vast project (God, Revelation and Authority in 6 volumes!).  Theology was being discussed.  Young evangelicals were encouraged not simply to preach and pray, visit and counsel, but to engage in theological thinking, to argue systematics.  And not only that, but the very shape of the arguments used to promote inerrancy were exemplary of the Reformed understanding of God's complete and ultimate sovereignty over the completely responsible action of human agents.  Much more could be said, but you get the idea.  In the 1970's and 1980's, many young ministers were being educated theologically by theologians who had Calvinistic soteriology and a Reformed understanding of God and of His work with humanity.  Part of what has led to Calvinism among the young has been the defense of Biblical inerrancy--in having a theological conversation at all, but especially by who was defending it, and how.