Sunday, July 01, 2007

Calvinism and Young Evangelicals, Why Reformed Theology is Winning the Next Generation

This post comes out of hearing that yet another of my good friends from the christian school I used to work at has come to embrace Reformed theology. Basically the school I was a part of was very much like Schaeffer's L'Abri, we were not Reformed but taught basic Bible classes and were very evangelistic. At any rate I myself out of love for the word became a Calvinist. I was pretty evangelisitic with Calvinism for a while, out of love for the truths that so many Christians just dismiss out of hand in the love of "free will".

At anyrate over time I have come to find that many of the students (particularly those who feel called to ministry) are embracing Reformed theology. I just want to play off of a theme which Christianity Today (CT) had on this subject a few months ago. CT said that there basically were two streams of thought that really are fighting for the hearts of the younger evangelicals: Calvinism and Emergent theology. Now I know that is probably over simplistic, but it makes for a good contrast.

What we have in Emergent theology is basically a new mysticism, God is no longer transcendent but is almost wholly immanent. This is not the God that will judge and send sinners to hell but rather the god (little g) that is there to affirm and to bring about unity. This god didn't send his son to die for you (that would be child abuse), that just kind of happened to him but it gives us an example to live by. This god has no authoritative word, all readings of the Bible are just interpretations, all that matters is that you are inspired to live well. Man is not so depraved as to deserve hell, but is probably 6 parts good to 4 parts bad. Salvation therefore isn't so much an event but a process we join and participate in.

I know this description is not applicable to all emergents but it is made up of what many emergents have been saying.

Reformed theology on the other hand has God as Lord of His creation, He is the King of Kings and Lord of lords. All will give an account of their lives before Him, there will be a real and final judgement and there will be damnation for those who have hated their God and eternal life for those who have loved Him and willingly and joyfully accepted Him as their Lord. This is the God who sent His Son Jesus to die in the place of sinners and it is His wounds and punishment in their place that effects their salvation.

This view of Christianity in contrast to it's high view of God has a low view of man. Man is as Paul said "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph2:1). Man is not willing to come to God as Lord nor ever will be apart from God opening sinners eyes. God would be completely just in damning the whole lot of the human race for their rebellion and hatred of their rightful King. But God in His mercy reaches down and saves sinners, salvation is a gift of God, completely.

This is a brief picture of I think the two competing theologies for the younger generation of evangelicals. I think many are coming to Reformed theology tired of the pop theology of the God who is there to affirm you make you feel good about yourself and is there to help balance the check book. The younger Christians either want to take this sort of Cotton candy theology further and go emergent or they are rejecting it and becoming Reformed.

Those who have gone Reformed are tired of the soft peddled theologies that dominate evangelicalism. They want a robust theology with all of the truths that natural man hates, truths of election, God's sovereignty, man's depravity, and a grace that actually does save rebels. They want a Jesus who is more then a hippie wearing sandals with a perm, limp wristed, wearing a dress, walking around talking about his feelings and making people feel good about themselves and eventually gets beat up by people who don't like him. That's not a Jesus that invokes worship, perhaps sympathy.

We want the Jesus of the Bible who came to seek and save the lost, the Jesus who died for sinners and rose victorious GUARANTEEING the salvation of ALL who He died for. The Jesus who is the Lord of all men but humbled Himself and took punishment knowing that his executioners had no power over Him at all. We want the Jesus who sits at the right hand of God and will return to judge the living and the dead, the Jesus who will exact judgement on those who rejected His Lordship and persecuted His servants. This is the Biblical Jesus.

It is the God who is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, that Reformed theology offers. It is the God who drops the ball and says oops that emergent theology offers. What we have is two different pulls one is from the City of Man and it's theology which is palatable to the natural man. Over against this is the theology of the City of God in all it's robustness and the natural man can not stand it. I think this is the picture.

8 comments:

Tim said...

Bob,

This is clearly a very sensitive subject to a lot of people on both sides of emergent topic. I've been jostled back and forth between "reformed" teaching in Presbyterian churches (both conservative and liberal) and "straight, evangelical exposition" from fundamental churches, and then completely annoyed with the "how to make your life work better" "teaching" of a church I was attending recently (though unsure if we'll be there anymore).

In my searches for what emergent theology really is based on the churches around the country that said they are part of the Emerging Church movement, I cannot find a theology. There are churches from just about every denomination, conservative and liberal, and of course many non-denominational churches. Even Calvinist churches. But I do find conversations, such as being missional and preaching through living like Jesus rather expository higher-education sermons, and many other issues.

But then as I saw your post, I decided to search again, and hey, look at this - someone has actually written a book now, published last year. Published by InterVarsity Press, An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches is "explaining that an emergent theology is messianic, revelational, kingdom-coming and eschatological, this book adresses many of the concerns of those looking for a church that is contemporary, yet true to the gospel."

http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3391

I think I'm going to find this book and read it, because heck, I'm interested in actually finding out what people who think this way really mean by what they say and how they see in scripturally. I figured you might be interested in this book, too, so that you can think and write about it more educatedly. At least that's my goal...

Cheers!

natamllc said...

Here is a big bite:::>

preach the gospel to EVERY CREATURE for a witness

AND THE END SHALL COME!

When the end comes, guess what else comes to an end?

The culture today is all about owning a house and then retiring and living like a millionaire in the Florida Keys!

Folks, Satan has a vested interest in seeing this Gospel of the Kingdom emergent and reformed!

When the Church Christ died for rises up washed in the Blood, White as Snow and brings this Kingdom message to every soul, this present heavens and earth end! PERIOD.

I know that's a difficult view in light of my earned interest and my vacation and my retirement and my golden years.

When the end comes, it's the end of all things natural.

LET'S RISE UP AND FINISH THE TASK, YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE, IN ONE ACCORD, WITH ONE VOICE::::>

1Ch 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
1Ch 16:32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it!
1Ch 16:33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.

FOR HE COMES TO JUDGE THE EARTH!

Bob said...

Hey Tim, sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I too have a distaste for the "7 Steps to improve your sex life" messages many churches teach. They think that it is there responsibility to pick salient topics that people want to hear and preach on those. Unfortunatly sin, righteous wrath of God, and reconciliation through Christ don't generally make the "felt needs" list that many of these Churches preach on. At any rate you wrote:

"In my searches for what emergent theology really is based on the churches around the country that said they are part of the Emerging Church movement, I cannot find a theology."

I agree with you. Which is why in th post I said this is a combination of what a lot of guys who self identify as "Emergent" have said. Brian McLaren doesn't believe in hell, many have said the subsitutionary atonement of Christ is "Divine child abuse", others have denied that the Bible is the innerant word of God (like that fellow I had a long talk with on your blog about 6 months back). Etc.

I know my characturization does not represent ALL Emergents or Emergent theology in general I know that there are different shades. I thought that was fairly clear in the post.

"But I do find conversations, such as being missional and preaching through living like Jesus rather expository higher-education sermons, and many other issues."

I am simply curious as to what in fact is a "conversation"? I guess I am not too hip anymore.

natamllc said...

Listen to this!

http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=52906154239

Bob said...

Thanks a LOT Michael for that link, that MUST be passed on.

Tim said...

Hi Bob,

It's been awhile since either of us have posted comments. It's been a busy spring. Don't worry about time getting in the way of good conversation. I hope that I didn't sound like I was criticizing your post. I was just trying to offer up an opinion that a lot is really unknown about the Emergent, except for brief sound bites from some of the more public figures, like Brian McLaren.

I remember reading an interview, maybe in Christianity Today in which McLaren was talking about hell, and I seem to recall that he made the point that the modern church bases their view of hell more on Dante's Inferno than on actual scripture. And honestly, he's right on. If you look at much of the OT, there was little or no references to a specified heaven/hell as an afterlife. There was Sheol for everyone. Then later we see a groups of scribes and rabbis split over whether there was a resurrection or not, as indicated in the gospels trying to trip up Jesus. So it appears that the the idea of afterlife came to fruition over time.

What I interpreted from that interview was that McLaren was basically saying Let's interrupt these things directly from scripture and stop adding things that are not there. And so, to answer you last question about a "conversation", he wants to have conversations of interpretation about what is actually in scripture, stripping out hundreds and thousands of years of add-ons from other sources.

What I liked about McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian is that he showed God working in a multi-dimensional way rather than a linear or two-dimensional way that we often think in. We are limited, God is not. And while we can think or believe we have all the right answers and have interpreted everything correctly from the Bible, we can be more assured that we'll have missed the point on many, many of them. So if we are humble enough to walk in faith knowing we have to trust in God so much more than our own knowledge (interpretation) of various elements we get from the Bible, we can focus truly on the gospel of Jesus which is to love God and love others by following Jesus in the ways He did love God and love others.

Calvin, of all theologians, would agree that there are mysteries of God we cannot reduce to reason and complete knowledge. Some of these include:

...that man with all his shrewdness is as stupid about understanding by himself the mysteries of God as an ass is incapable of understanding musical harmony. Commentary on 1 Corinthians

Calvin admonished readers not to concern themselves with details about the creation, nature, and functioning of angels that Scripture has not given us to know. Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.14.4-12

...Calvin achieved clarity in his treatment of the sacrament not by thinking through it but by thinking around it. Calvin acknowledged that at the heart of the sacrament there is a miracle and a profound mystery. He never sought to reduce the mystery to reason but rather preserved the mysterious element. Wallace, Word and Sacrament, p. 219.

These are the types of conversations that can and should be had. How great is it that we can discuss the mysteries of God and speculate, albeit briefly without much detail, about the wonders God has in store for us now and for eternity.

Bob said...

Hey Tim, it is nice to talk with you again. You wrote:

"I remember reading an interview, maybe in Christianity Today in which McLaren was talking about hell, and I seem to recall that he made the point that the modern church bases their view of hell more on Dante's Inferno than on actual scripture. And honestly, he's right on. If you look at much of the OT, there was little or no references to a specified heaven/hell as an afterlife. There was Sheol for everyone. Then later we see a groups of scribes and rabbis split over whether there was a resurrection or not, as indicated in the gospels trying to trip up Jesus. So it appears that the the idea of afterlife came to fruition over time."

So why do we need to camp out in the OT alone to get our theology? Jesus Christ said more about hell and damnation of sinners then anybody else in the Bible. Just for example:

"Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me." (John 5:28-30)

As for the differing factions of Rabbis as to the resurrection Jesus tells us that the Saducees were wrong to deny the resurrection. In Reply to their silly argument He says:

""Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" (Mark 12:24)

Tim, I would say the same thing to you. I think the only way such a ridiculous statement like MacLaren makes as to the Biblical basis for hell and God's judgement could be percieved as accurate is if you don't know the scriptures. I have pointed to just one passage in John 5 but there it is clear that there is a resurrection and a Judgement. If that is not good enough there is countless other passages where Christ teaches the reality that sinners will be judged and damned for hating and rejecting God.

"And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'" (Mark 9:47-48)

So when your boy McLaren says:

"What I interpreted from that interview was that McLaren was basically saying Let's interrupt these things directly from scripture and stop adding things that are not there."

I am in whole hearted agreement, but I think this is just sophistry on his part. He just wants to say that the Bible is on his side. Nevermind pointing to it, just say we support our hell denying theolgy by it...

" We are limited, God is not. And while we can think or believe we have all the right answers and have interpreted everything correctly from the Bible, we can be more assured that we'll have missed the point on many, many of them. So if we are humble enough to walk in faith knowing we have to trust in God so much more than our own knowledge (interpretation) of various elements we get from the Bible, we can focus truly on the gospel of Jesus which is to love God and love others by following Jesus in the ways He did love God and love others."

Tim that's just an argument from ignorence. You are saying that because we are finite we can't say for sure that the historical teaching on hell is accurate. Now to a point I would agree, we need to be humble theologians. However God has revealed Himself in His word, and it is clear that there is a judgement and damnation of sinners yet to come AFTER they are resurrected.

Also the gospel message isn't love other people. That is not the gospel Tim, that is spiritualized American limp wristed Dr. Philianism. The gospel is that though we were haters of God and idol makers (making nice managable gods that suit our own depraved consciences) yet in all that God shows mercy through opening our eyes and granting grace to repent and see the ugliness of our sin and the holiness of God, and to turn to Christ alone as our hope. The gospel message is that God haters can be reconciled through Jesus Christ to a holy God, it is vertical Tim not horizontal city of man in it's scope.

Now yes, we are then called to love our neighbors but that is not the gospel, it is the fruit of the gospel changing the lives of sinners.

"Calvin, of all theologians, would agree that there are mysteries of God we cannot reduce to reason and complete knowledge."

I agree but Calvin had this passage in mind as he wrote those words:

"The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut 29:29)

The point is that where the Bible is silent we must also be so. However where the Bible speaks loudly and clearly we also must speak in the same fashion. The way you are interpreting Calvin would really undercut the work of a theologian and make it purely subjective. This is just "what I got out of this passage".

Again, I believe there is mystery and areas we simply are left without revelation. Like you cited Angels, we really know a very little about angels, but we do know some things as revealed in scripture. Beyond the revealed word all is conjecture.

But woe to those who ignore the revealed word and create idols and call them THE LORD, I really think that is what McLaren is doing.

TheChristianAlert.org said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the post. I'm making my way into reformed theology. Once you study scriptures, there seems to be no other answer - at least - not the current options (e.g. Arminianism).

I also liked your definition of the emergent church.