Rev. Van Baren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“Young, Restless, Reformed”
In Christianity Today, September 2006, an interesting article was printed with the above title. It appears, according to the article, that there is growing interest among young people and in some seminaries, both with students and professors, in the Reformed doctrines. These are seeking something more substantial than the fluff offered so often today to please the young. The article claims a growing conviction of many that the Reformed doctrine is concerned centrally with the glory of God and not entertainment for man. The writer begins with a brief introduction about John Piper, who authored the book “Desiring God,” which has sold more than 275,000 copies since 1986. He has been having great influence upon the young people. The article states:
Not all of these youth know Piper’s theological particulars. But plenty do, and Piper, more than anyone else, has contributed to a resurgence of Reformed Theology among young people. You can’t miss the trend at some of the leading evangelical seminaries, like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which reports a significant Reformed uptick among students over the past 20 years. Or the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, now the largest Southern Baptist seminary and a Reformed hotbed. Piper, 60, has tinged the movement with the God-exalting intensity of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century Puritan pastor-theologian. Not since the decades after his death have evangelicals heaped such attention on Edwards.
Reformed theology often goes by the name Calvinism, after the renowned 16th-century Reformation theologian John Calvin. Yet even Edwards rejected the label, saying he neither depended on Calvin nor always agreed with him. Still, it is Calvin’s followers who produced the famous acrostic TULIP to describe the “doctrines of grace” that are the hallmarks of traditional Reformed theology: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints….
Already, this latest surge of Reformed theology has divided Southern Baptist churches and raised questions about the future of missions. Its exuberant young advocates reject generic evangelicalism and tout the benefits of in-depth biblical doctrine. They have once again brought the perennial debate about God’s sovereignty and humans’ free will to the forefront.
The evidence for the resurgence is partly institutional and partly anecdotal. But it’s something that a variety of church leaders observe. While the Emergent “conversation” gets a lot of press for its appeal to the young, the new Reformed movement may be a larger and more pervasive phenomenon. It certainly has a much stronger institutional base. I traveled to some of the movement’s leading churches and institutions and talked to theologians, pastors, and parishioners, trying to understand Calvinism’s new appeal and how it is changing American churches.
However, some in the Southern Baptist Churches deplore resulting divisions within the SBC:
…Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued that Southern Baptists generally reject any notion that God “arbitrarily chooses individuals to be damned before they are born.”
“(T)he greatest tragedy is when adherence to TULIP leads to division in churches and prevents them from cooperation in, and urgency for, a passion toward fulfilling the Great Commission,” Yarnell wrote. He concluded, “Southern Baptists are first, last, and always followers of Jesus Christ, not John Calvin.”
The most provocative comments in the SBC may belong to Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In April 2005, he presented a paper on “The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals.” Lemke warned, “I believe that [Calvinism] is potentially the most explosive and divisive issue facing us in the near future. It has already been an issue that has split literally dozens of churches, and it holds the potential to split the entire convention.”
At the same time, those now teaching Reformed doctrine want to separate themselves from “Grand Rapids’ Calvinism”:
“I think the criticism of Reformed Theology is being silenced by the mission and justice and evangelism and worship counseling—the whole range of pastoral life,” Piper said. “We’re not the kind who are off in a Grand Rapids ghetto crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s and telling the world to get their act together. We’re in the New Orleans slums with groups like Desire Street Ministries, raising up black elders through Reformed theology from 9-year-old boys who had no chance.”
The concluding paragraphs appear to express movingly the humble gratitude for sovereign election and the wonder of God’s grace:
It’s because the young Calvinists value theological systems far less than God and his Word. Whatever the cultural factors, many Calvinist converts respond to hallmark passages like
“I really don’t like to raise any banner of Calvinism or Reformed theology,” said Eric Lonergan, a 23-year-old University of Minnesota graduate. “Those are just terms. I just like to look at the Word and let it speak for itself.”
That’s the essence of what Joshua Harris calls “humble orthodoxy.” He reluctantly debates doctrine, but he passionately studies Scripture and seeks to apply all its truth.
“If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads going, ‘It’s unbelievable. Why would God choose any of us?’ Harris said. “You are so amazed by grace, you’re not picking a fight with anyone, you’re just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn’t have to save anybody.”
One can be encouraged in hearing of those who are not satisfied with “seeker services” or “contemporary worship services,” but desire rather instruction in sound doctrine. One can be encouraged by a professed intent to study carefully the Word of God. Our churches also should use any opportunity given to instruct others in the truths of Reformed (scriptural) doctrine. We must take to heart also the calling to instruct our youth first of all in the glorious truths of Scripture. May we also have that zeal and enthusiasm to study the Word earnestly and profitably.
Yet the article in Christianity Today mentions certain things that ought to be of grave concern. The statement (quoted more fully above) is made, “We’re not the kind who are off in a Grand Rapids ghetto crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s and telling the world to get their act together.” What does that mean? The article insists that there is a growing interest in the five points of Calvinism. But is Grand Rapids a “ghetto” of Calvinism, where there is the intent to emphasize Calvinism too strictly? One would think a statement like that would require further explanation.
Another paragraph indicates a disjunction between the five points of Calvinism and other (we are convinced) related doctrines.
Perhaps an attraction to serious doctrine brought about 3,000 ministry leaders to Louisville in April for a Together for the Gospel conference. The conference’s sponsors included Mohler and Mahaney, and Piper also spoke. Most of the audience were in their 20s and 30s. Each of the seven speakers holds to the five points of TULIP. Yet none of them spoke of Calvinism unless I asked about it. They did express worry about perceived evangelical accommodation to postmodernism and criticized churches for applying business models to ministry. They mostly joked about their many differences on such historically difficult issues as baptism, church government, eschatology, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They drew unity as Calvinist evangelicals from their concerns: with seeker churches, church-growth marketing, and manipulative revival techniques.
If these “historically difficult issues” represent the dotting of i’s and crossing of t’s, as appears to be the case, that would be sad indeed. Those interested in the truths of God’s Word ought to be interested in all the doctrines as taught in Scripture. These “difficult issues” are hardly a matter about which one jokes. Let those who are truly interested in the truths expressed by the acronym TULIP consider well how these other truths are related to TULIP!
So: What’s New?
Republican strategists said yesterday that public revulsion over the sexually graphic online conversations between Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) and former House pages could compound the party’s problems enough to tip the House to the Democrats in November—and could jeopardize the party’s hold on the Senate as well. (Washington Post)
News reports as that presented above have dominated the news broadcasts the past week and likely will continue at least until the election in November.
But is it so surprising?
There was a time, and within my lifetime, that a politician caught in adultery could never remain or be elected to Congress or as President of the United States. But that is no longer true.
There was a time when a politician identified as homosexual could never be elected or remain in a government position. But no more is that true.
So the reports of recent weeks only portray what the direction and ultimate end is of those who would ignore God’s laws. What is considered acceptable today was condemned in the past—on the basis of God’s law. Today God’s law is no longer the standard—but the “majority vote” of the populace is. What is condemned today (rightly so) in the action of Rep. Foley could likely be approved lifestyle in the not-so-distant future. If there is not an absolute standard, then anything acceptable to the majority becomes the standard. The people and country refusing to recognize this descend rapidly into the depths of depravity. Romans 1:19-32 does indeed work out as God has spoken.