Monthly Archives: April 2008

 

Apr

16

2008

Trevin Wax|2:45 am CT

Book Review: Relativism – Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air

Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-AirMany think that philosophical arguments and affirmations should be left to philosophers and academics. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl dispels that notion. Beckwith and Koukl show how philosophy (relativism in particular) influences how we think about politics, religion, law and morality.

Now in its tenth printing, Relativism is a terrific introduction to the notion of moral relativism and its impact on our lives. The authors lay out three kinds of relativism: Society Does Relativism (a description of different moralities in different societies), Society Says Relativism (a prescription of morality based on society’s moral code), and I Say Relativism (each individual creates his/her own morality). The authors seek to discredit these types of relativism by showing the inherent flaws in each system.

How do you respond to objections like: You shouldn’t force your morality on me! Who are you to judge? Beckwith and Koukl offer suggestions for refuting relavitism by showing how the system breaks down by relying on self-refuting statements.

Relativism will not satisfy philosophers who like to delve deeper into these discussions. But the book is brilliant as a winsome, easy-to-understand introduction to these matters for laypeople who have had philosophical discussions without knowing it.

written by Trevin Wax. copyright © 2008 Kingdom People Blog.

 
 

Apr

15

2008

Trevin Wax|4:15 am CT

Reformed Resurgence 2: John Piper

piper_hands.jpgIn Chapter 2 of Young, Restless, Reformed, journalist Collin Hansen travels to Minneapolis to attend Bethlehem Baptist Church and interview Pastor John Piper. He starts out by attending the Saturday night service, speaking with a young church member about Calvinism, and then spending some time with Piper in his home. On Sunday morning, he visits Bethlehem again, this time looking over the Reformed theology available in the bookstore, and then sitting in as TULIP is taught in a college group.

Next, Hansen relates a conversation with Roger Olson, an Arminian evangelical scholar who believes Calvinists and Arminians should not spend so much energy quarreling with each other and should instead fight the real danger in American theology: Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Hansen helpfully lays out the main differences of interpretation between Arminians and Calvinists.

Shifting back to his chronicle of Calvinism among the young, Hansen then recounts conversations with other young men and women who embraced Calvinism after seeing the difference it was making in the lives and ministries of others. He devotes a small amount of space to the complementarian view of gender roles that often accompanies the current Calvinist theology. He then ends with the warning issued by Piper’s son, Barnabas – that people not undo his father’s emphasis on God’s glory by worshipping a Minneapolis pastor instead.

Celebration

This chapter, in many ways, increases my admiration for John Piper. I celebrate the emphasis he puts on biblical theology. Piper is a pastor who understands the ramifications of getting theology right. He is one of the greatest preachers of our day, a faithful expositor of Scripture whose passionate delivery helps drive home his God-centered messages.

Collin has done a terrific job showing what it is about Piper that makes him so “irresistible” to young adults. Piper manages to combine biblical exegesis with an infectious passion in his preaching. He understands that biblical knowledge should never be an end in itself, but should instead be intended to transform our lives. I also appreciate the pastoral sensitivity and passion for his theology that leads Piper to so freely share his resources online. In a world of online sermon-purchasing, Piper’s willingness to sacrifice personal gain for his message is a breath of fresh air.

I also celebrate the emphasis that Collin puts on evangelism. Throughout the chapter, the tired refrain that “Calvinists don’t evangelize” is unmasked as a stereotype that is simply untrue. Collin wisely included the testimony of one young girl speaking of how Calvinist theology actually emboldens evangelism. Absolutely. Those who believe in unconditional election have the confidence that their gospel-sharing will result in people coming to faith.

Concerns

My major concern comes, not from Collin’s research, but from Piper himself. At one point, Piper says:

One of the most common things I deal with when talking to younger pastors is conflict with their senior pastors… They’re youth pastors and they’ve gone to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and read something R.C. Sproul or I wrote and they say, ‘We’re really out of step. What should we do? I try to say you have to be totally candid with your pastor and tell him where you’re coming from and pray that God will help him share your vision. And then ask permission. And if they give you permission, teach away. Build your movement.”

I appreciate Piper’s emphasis on honesty and candor, as well as his instruction for young pastors to submit to pastoral authority. But there are some major problems here. First off, what happens when the pastor says “No”? Piper seems to give the impression here that a young staff member should only teach Calvinism if the pastor agrees. Does this mean that if the pastor disagrees the younger pastor should just keep quiet? I doubt it. Piper wants the “movement” to grow, so I assume he would tell young pastors to find another church.

But there are bigger problems than this. Just what are we asking permission for? To share the gospel with lost people? To preach expository sermons? To teach our churches the Bible? No… we’re asking permission to spread a system of theology, which leads me to more questions. Is this what we’re called to do? I appreciate Piper’s instruction, but what’s the point? To see Calvinism spread throughout evangelicalism? The Great Commission will take a backseat to Calvinism if we focus on ”building a movement.”

What happens when the “movement” of Reformed theology takes center stage? By placing Calvinism at the forefront of what we are to “build,” we are necessarily putting the local church and the gospel itself at the backburner. (I understand that there is a Calvinist church-planting movement. However, once the emphasis shifts from “build for the kingdom” and “preach the gospel” to “build your movement,” our trajectory changes and we begin going in a direction that will ultimately lead us astray.)

Piper’s emphasis on Calvinism also clouds the issue for his followers. The passionate delivery and way he articulates the five points would have you think that a denial of Calvinism is, in effect, a denial of the true and undiluted gospel. Roger Olson is right to point out that many Calvinists treat Arminians as if they did not believe the gospel. The problem here is that the system of soteriology has replaced the gospel announcement.

Ironically, for all its emphasis on being God-centered, the Calvinist resurgence often replaces the gospel message about Christ with TULIP. Calvinism is the gospel for many of the young, restless, and Reformed. Any deviation from Calvinism is seen as a lesser, incomplete expression of the gospel. Confusing “the gospel” with the doctrines of grace is an error which will lead to less and less cooperation with Christians who differ on the issue of Calvinism.

The final concern I have in this chapter is the troublesome image of Piper’s fandom. Collin manages to be even-handed as he describes the “Piperites.” For me, the most disturbing statement comes from a young lady at the end of the chapter who talks about how Piper is like a dad to her, even though they’ve never met. Why is this troublesome?

First off, the double standard should be obvious. Later in the book, ”professional” pastors that are not easily accessible receive harsh criticism. Yet I wonder how many secretaries I would have to go through before I could reach John Piper? I am not criticizing Piper here. As pastor of a mega-church, there are only so many people he can talk to. I am merely pointing out the double standard in critiquing pastors outside Reformed circles for being inaccessible, when the great Reformed pastors face the same issues.

Secondly, and more importantly, the very idea that a man can be “like a dad” to a young lady even though they’ve never met tells us something about God himself. Fathers image God. The fact that a young lady would express the concept of spiritual fatherhood in relation to Piper shows what her view of God the Father is. Far off. Transcendant. Powerful. Distant. If fatherhood can take place without ever meeting, then we must have missed something about the immanence of God that expresses itself in God’s condescension to us in Christ.

This story is surely a warning light that we have gone too far in our view of God’s transcendence. In our reaction towards the “buddy Jesus” of youth group, have we swung the pendulum too far the other way?

Tomorrow, we look at Collin’s chapter on Southern Seminary.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Apr

15

2008

Trevin Wax|3:59 am CT

Gospel Definitions: Jeremiah Burroughs

The gospel of Christ in general is this:

It is the good tidings that God has revealed concerning Christ.

More largely it is this:

As all mankind was lost in Adam and became the children of wrath, put under the sentence of death, God, though He left His fallen angels and has reserved them in the chains of eternal darkness, yet He has thought upon the children of men and has provided a way of atonement to reconcile them to Himself again…Namely, the second person of the Trinity takes man’s nature upon Himself, and becomes the Head of a second covenant, standing charged with sin. He answers for it by suffering what the law and divine justice required, and by making satisfaction by keeping the law perfectly, which satisfaction and righteousness He tenders up to the Father as a sweet savor of rest for the souls that are given to Him…And now this mediation of Christ is, by the appointment of the Father, preached to the children of men, of whatever nation or rank, freely offering this atonement unto sinners for atonement, requiring them to believe in Him and, upon believing, promising not only a discharge of all their former sins, but that they shall not enter into condemnation, that none of their sins or unworthiness shall ever hinder the peace of God with them, but that they shall through Him be received into the number of those who shall have the image of God again to be renewed unto them, and they they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.

- Jeremiah Burroughs

 
 

Apr

14

2008

Trevin Wax|4:57 am CT

Reformed Resurgence 1: Calvinist Conversion?

A Journalist's Journey with the New CalvinistsToday we begin looking at Collin Hansen’s new book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. Hansen (an editor-at-large for Christianity Today) has documented the recent resurgence of Calvinist theology among young people, a theological development that crosses denominational lines. In the next few days, I plan on commenting on several of the chapters by summarizing Hansen’s research, celebrating certain aspects of the Reformed Resurgence, and expressing my concerns regarding other aspects.

The reason I am devoting several posts to this slim volume is because I speak as one who in some ways is on the inside of this movement and in other ways is on the outside. I spent 18 months in Louisville at Southern Seminary (2005-2007) as a full-time student and am still a student at the Nashville extension center. I am familiar with the Reformed theology of many Southern students, having been immersed in the Seminary’s culture during my time on campus.

At the same time, based on the professed theological convictions of the vast majority of those highlighted in the book, I am also on the outside of this movement since I am not a five-point Calvinist. My theology leans Reformed, meaning that I am probably more Calvinistic than the majority of Southern Baptists. (I would be in the category often jokingly referred to as “Christmas Calvinists.” In other words, No L.) I do not see most aspects of Calvinism as being worthy of dividing over. Neither do I believe I have been commissioned to convince others of Calvinism.

In other words, I am not so much concerned that the people in the church in which I am a pastor are able to detail the historical development of the doctrine of unconditional election, as I am concerned that my people know and believe that the Bible teaches that there is nothing in them that makes them worthy of God’s grace in salvation in Christ. I have critiqued some of the aspects of the Reformed Resurgence in other posts, even as I celebrate some of its developments.

Chapter Summary

Collin Hansen’s book begins with a chapter titled “Born Again Again.” Here, Collin emphasizes how the resurgence is taking place among the “young” by describing those attending the Passion Conferences. Collin tells us about a Seventh-Day Adventist who considers himself a “Piper fiend” and has listened to 200 sermons from Piper on Romans alone. He points out how Reformed theology pulsates through Piper’s signature book, Desiring God. Piper fits well at the Passion conferences because of his emphasis on the grandeur of God. Worship songs from Charlie Hall and Chris Tomlin emphasize God’s glory and sovereignty.

Collin argues that the Passion Conferences have seen remarkable success among the college-aged because the students are starved for a gospel of grace and not the moralistic, man-centered teachings they have been fed in church. For many young people, discovering Calvinism is like getting saved all over again. Most find Calvinism hard to swallow at first, but after embracing the doctrines of grace, they find it to be liberating. Collin writes about “stories of conversion – born again by the power of God, then transformed by the mystery of grace.”

Celebration

There is much to celebrate here. Collin’s story about the Adventist begins with the young man’s conversion and is a bright testimony to the power of the gospel. Nothing to quibble about here. Whenever people are being transformed by the gospel, we should rejoice – secondary doctrines aside.

Also worthy of celebrating is the fantastic worship music that has come from this movement. From the Passion conferences, we’ve benefited from the music of Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall and others. Sovereign Grace Ministries puts out contemporary praise songs with a strong dose of theology, as do Keith and Krystin Getty (of “In Christ Alone” fame). Red Mountain Church and Indelible Grace have revived interest in old hymns, by giving them new tunes. The Reformed Resurgence is responsible for a number of worship songs that rise to the top, outshining the shallow theology of other contemporary offerings.

Collin rightly notes that young people today are craving the Transcendent God, perhaps as a reaction to a steady diet of “buddy Jesus in youth group.” We should rejoice that the majesty and holiness of God is again at the forefront of the Calvinist resurgence.

Concerns

Several of Collin’s unspoken assumptions bother me. For example, I too rejoice that the transcendence of God is once again being emphasized among those in my generation. But is Calvinism the only Christian tradition that provides this? Is the transcendence of God to be found in Calvinism alone? One could argue that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions have also traditionally emphasized this aspect of God’s nature, yet we would probably not be happy to see young people abandoning Protestantism. Collin’s unspoken assumption is this: Only Calvinism properly emphasizes the transcendence of God. I beg to differ. During my years of mission work in Romania, I learned about the awe and transcendence of God in a church culture that was far from Calvinist.

Another concern? The Reformed resurgence as portrayed in the book seems like a massive movement that is exploding in popularity. Actually, the number of young Calvinists remains rather low. Collin himself notes this by quoting from Christian Smith’s Soul Searching, which demonstrates how most young people are being fed a diet of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Yes, the case can be made that many of the new Calvinists are reacting against moralism. But unfortunately, most of our young people are also simply disappearing. The ones still in church may be moving towards Calvinism, but the Reformed Resurgence is not as widespread as it appears in the book. (I do believe, however, that Collin is right to see the Reformed movement as being numerically bigger than the Emerging Church movement. Though the Emerging Church gets more press, the Reformed resurgence is probably more widespread.)

Minor quibbles aside, I am most concerned about the testimonies that give the chapter this title: “Born Again Again.” Those who discover Calvinism speak of their experience as a second conversion, like getting saved all over again. Collin himself gives a brief testimony, where he mentions his conversion, his spiritual life after conversion, and then the difference that Calvinism made in his life. The underlying impression in his story and others is this: “God saved me, praise the Lord! But I was still missing something. I needed something more.”

Ironically, the Calvinist resurgence here resembles its arch-nemesis: Wesleyanism. The Methodists have their “Second Blessing” whereupon “perfection” is granted. This event takes place after conversion. Likewise, the Pentecostals (also Arminian!) believe that the filling of the Holy Spirit takes place after conversion, once one speaks in tongues. Salvation is terrific, but the blessing that comes after salvation is even better. Is the embrace of Calvinism much different?

These questions about “converting to Calvinism” bother me more as the book goes on. (Piper later talks about being “baptized into Calvinist theology” – an unfortunate metaphor that says more than he probably intended, but is revealing nonetheless). Students speak of Calvinism as a secret they discover that they then want to take back to their churches. The person’s journey towards Calvinist convictions sounds more Gnostic to me than Christian. We finally have the secret knowledge that no one else knows about. We are the only ones who know this.

Tomorrow, we look at Chapter 2 and Hansen’s interview with John Piper.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Apr

14

2008

Trevin Wax|3:52 am CT

Bring Some of Your Fish

“Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”
- Jesus to his disciples (John 21:10)

After a long night of fruitless work, the disciples were tired and depressed, until the risen Jesus met them on the shore and gave them instruction in their fishing procedure. Once the disciples obeyed, there were too many fish for the net to hold.

When they arrived on shore, Jesus then instructed them to “bring some of the fish that they just caught” and to join Him for breakfast. The Savior had no need of the disciples’ fish, since He already had a charcoal fire and fish cooking for Himself. He also knew (as well as the disciples) that the only reason they had been able to catch something was because He Himself had given them the power.

All night long, by themselves, they had labored without results. Yet, in His kindness and majestic love, Jesus invited the disciples to bring some of “their” fish to mix with His fish, and then to have breakfast together with Him. All were really His fish, including the fish that the disciples caught, but He mercifully gave those fish to them to catch.

Everything we have (our talents, our minds, our ability to move, even our spirituality) is given to us by God. Even if we were to give every single minute of our lives for His service alone, we really would not be giving Him anything that wasn’t already His very own.

Jesus didn’t need the disciples’ fish in order to have breakfast. Yet, in His grace, He invited them to bring “their” fish to His table and to eat with Him. God doesn’t need our talents in order to do His work. Yet, in His grace, He invites us to bring “our” gifts to His altar and to work alongside of Him. Τhis is the profound mystery and wonder of a loving God who invites us to take part in His work. He gives us the power; He gives us the “fish”; we give Him the glory.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

 
 

Apr

13

2008

Trevin Wax|11:35 am CT

Headed to T4G

Tomorrow night, I will be driving to Louisville, Kentucky for the Together for the Gospel conference and the Band of Bloggers luncheon. I missed both in 2006, even though I was living in Louisville at the time.

 I look forward to meeting some of my readers this week. If you are in the area and would like to get together, email me and we can try to set something up.

 
 

Apr

13

2008

Trevin Wax|4:07 am CT

Piper's Resurrection Prayer

Father of glory,
we praise you that you mightily raised your Son, Jesus, from the dead.
We praise you that the stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is your doing
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Death could not hold him!
Our last enemy has fallen before your power
in the triumph of Jesus over death,
and we have been freed from fear of this ancient enemy.

And now, O God,
grant us to live in the riches of all that Jesus’ resurrection means.
All authority belongs to him in heaven and on earth.
No power and no enemy can prevail against him.
Only good can come to us in the end as we trust in him.
The best is always yet to come.

So, Father,
banish fear and fretting and discouragement and moddiness from our lives.
Rivet our attention on the ultimate reality
of Christ’s final triumph over death.
Never let us forget or fail to feel universal glory
that you have given Jesus a name that is above every name.
Make this practical in our daily lives
as we see every person, great and small,
facing someday the risen and triumphant Judge of all the nations.
Give us a brokenhearted boldness
in the mercy and might of Jesus.

O Father,
we want our lives to count for the display of his greatness.
Work in us to this end with all your might, we pray.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

- John Piper, from Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, (pp.108-9)

 
 

Apr

12

2008

Trevin Wax|4:43 am CT

Breaking Through

As we began our ministry to the village teenagers in Romania, my school friend and I would meet several times a week to spend time in prayer fo the teens. We had been having a difficult time for several months. It was hard for us to get the teens to open up to us. They were often so quiet during our Bible studies that we weren’t sure how to handle them.

After one of our Saturday youth services, most of the teens went with us to one of the homes, where we ate some home-made pizza. While there, we played a variety of games together, and the teens really came out of their shells. As everyone was talking and smiling and having a good time, I sat back and just was amazed at the scene taking place in front of me.

I remember one of the teenagers looking at me and saying, “Trevin, these are those special times that you just can’t plan or create – when everyone is happy and when God is moving in a special way.” A few minutes later, we saw a shooting star outside.

During my stay in Romania, there were mountaintops and valleys. Recalling the blessings of the mountaintop helped sustain me in the valleys that were coming.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog 

 
 

Apr

12

2008

Trevin Wax|4:06 am CT

Why Has the Church Lost Influence?

“I believe that one reason why the church of God at this present moment has so little influence over the world is because the world has so much influence over the church.” —C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)

HT – John Pipes

 
 

Apr

11

2008

Trevin Wax|3:39 am CT

In the Blogosphere

My next interview with N.T. Wright is less than two weeks away. If you have a question related to Surprised by Hope or his views on heaven and resurrection, email me and I’ll consider including it in the interview.

It looks like Prince Caspian may deviate significantly from Lewis’ book. But Lewis’ stepson thinks that’s a good thing.

Check out my review in Christianity Today of Charles Colson’s new book, The Faith.

Bill Blair with some helpful advice for all of us. Be content and fruitful wherever God has placed you.

Marty Davis interacts with my posts on After the Baby Boomers.

The Seven Deadly Words in Book Reviews. Yikes! I’m guilty! This poignant post (with an intriguing title) is crafted by a compelling author who eschews the lyrical bad-writing of reviewers who muse about books.

The unchurched prefer classic church architecture rather than contemporary designs.

ESV Bible translation continues its rise. TNIV drops out of the Top Ten best-selling translations.

It’s healthy to take our evangelical lingo and phrases into consideration, asking ourselves what they might communicate. Jared Wilson has a helpful post on “giving your life to Christ” – specifically, how Christianity is more about Jesus giving his life to us.

Timmy Brister interviews Collin Hansen about his new book, Young, Restless, Reformed. Look for my 4-part review of Collin’s book next week at Kingdom People.

Tony Kummer disagrees with Collin Hansen. Southern Seminary is “Ground Zero” for the gospel, not for Calvinism.

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