Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: John Hendryx

This is the fifth in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello John Hendryx, and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
JH: I am honored to be invited to be interviewed on your blog, Guy. Thank you for having me and for your commitment to edifying the saints. A native of Los Angeles, I am 42 years old, married and currently live in Portland, Oregon. After spending 10 years living in China as a student and in the Internet industry, I am now the executive director of CPR Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit organization which oversees the production, maintenance and development of Monergism.com and its subsidiaries. The purpose of CPRF is to magnify the grace of God in Jesus Christ by equipping Christians in the truth by making available the finest classic articles and resources of historical orthodoxy. As you may know, I began the Monergism project as a hobby in 2001 and while doing seminary at the same time. After the enormous increase in online traffic we opened an online bookstore. By the grace of God, it is a full time gig now, and as more people partner financially with us through CPRF we hope to make the resources at Monergism.com more accessible and usable to visitors worldwide as we develop new content and streamline the design and backend of the website.
GD: What is the "Monergism" website all about?

JH: Monergism.com is about the person and work of Jesus Christ. We believe that all reality, both seen and unseen exists for Him; for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. More specifically, we seek to bring Christ glory by proclaiming to all creation that all spiritual blessings find their source in Him, and nowhere else. Our purpose in proclaiming the gospel is to Cut off the Sinner from All Hope in Himself pointing to Christ as our only hope since Christ does for us what we could not do for ourselves. That we have no power to do anything God requires of us apart from Christ and His cross, and that includes believing the gospel. As J.I. Packer once said, “Sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart." He is emphasizing the fact that our heart must be renewed prior to believing the gospel. In other words, the purpose of Monergism.com is to recover the fullness of the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. So our hope is that Monergism.com serves as a place in the wilderness which is an oasis for weary saints in the worldwide Christian community – to point them back to the gospel of Jesus Christ as their only means of life and spiritual nourishment. As you may have noticed, we like to emphasize the doctrine of (monergistic) regeneration because it is where the rubber meets the road. When understood rightly, it exalts the grace of God in Christ ALONE and opens up the meaning of the whole counsel of Scripture like never before. It reveals whether one believes that salvation is by Jesus Christ alone or Jesus plus something else. This is vital because the Gospel is primarily about what Jesus does for us, not what we do for Him.

GD: What made you think about setting up "Monergism"?
JH: When my wife and I were discussing the lack any vertical portals for Christ-honoring material on the Internet, she encouraged me to begin filling the gap by developing a site where I spend just a couple hours each day mining the Internet for sound content on every subject and making it available with a usable interface. Over time, by God’s grace, it ended up being a clearing house for sound theology and biblical exegesis. To our surprise, it has now even become, by order of magnitude, the largest website of its kind on the world.
GD: Were you converted in a church that taught the doctrines of grace? If not how did you become aware of Reformed theology?

JH: I was not the least bit familiar with Jesus Christ growing up so I was not converted in a church. My conversion took place when I was away at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where I had first become strongly influenced by Eastern religion and new age occultism. Having become convinced of the reality of God I diligently studied Hinduism and Buddhism as well as the Bible. A class on Philosophy and Religion by a Christian professor actually led me to read the Bagavhad Gita and the Upanishads, both Hindu writings. Spending two hours every morning in meditation and reading many books on the occult, I embraced pantheism, the belief that everything is god, including self. All religions, I believed, pointed to God and were simply puzzle pieces which made up a larger reality. I thought they all saw the truth from their own vantage points. At the time, though, I rejected all claims that to the exclusivity of Jesus as Savior. Rather, I saw Jesus’ divinity as something we could all attain to; that he was just like us but that he had reached the highest level of enlightenment (a bodhisattva) and had done this through many incarnations and so ascended to heaven … something we could all attain to eventually through meditation and vigorous efforts at doing good. An old friend of mine who had since become a Christian in another state became concerned about me and began earnestly praying for me. God heard his prayers because the more I read of the Bible, the more I was confronted with its exclusive claims and the inconsistencies of the new age movement. This manifested itself most plainly one day in my off campus attic room I was reading through the following passage from Deuteronomy 18:
"When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.” (Deut 18:9-14)
Since I was engaged in a number of these practices and saw that God clearly found these to be detestable abominations, it struck great fear in my heart, such that the Lord drove me to my knees and placed in me a desire for understanding. I cried to God, “Lord, if everything I believe is wrong, please show me. Truth is more important.” The Lord soon answered the prayer He stirred me to utter. Within a week I was reading through the Epistle to the Romans and as I when I reached Romans 9 I read the following words:
“What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (Rom 9:14-18)
As soon as I read it the Lord removed the scales from my eyes and I understood that He is God and I am not. And the work that Jesus had done for us that I had read about in the rest of the Bible now made sense and so he converted me right then and there. And although I had never read about Luther or Calvin, I was born into the kingdom understanding the sovereignty of God in Scripture as an Augustinian would. I understood that salvation was all of Christ and none of me as He stripped me of all hope in myself. The Bible was clearly communicating to me that, from the beginning of time, the greatest errors sprung from the idolatrous idea that man could be as God … and that all subsequent error in and out of the church is simply different levels of this same error, from outright heresy to simple inconsistencies within Christianity. For example, if the new age error was the most extreme form of solipsism, then the next rung up the ladder next might be secularism (the exaltation of man like when building the Tower of Babel), then Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Classic Arminianism and so forth. All of these have decreasing levels of this same error. Only Calvinism appeared to take the full leap in believing that Christ and Christ alone is the source and cause of salvation. That the Lord is in heaven and He does as He pleases. So although I was soteriologically reformed at the time of my conversion, it was several years before I actually read anything by the Reformers.
GD: That's a great testimony to God's life-transforming grace. What is it that so captivates you about the Reformed faith?
JH: That it so emphasizes Jesus Christ and what He has done to accomplish our redemption. Thoroughly Christ-centered and consistent with the Scripture, Reformed Theology, I believe, is at pains to derive its theology from biblical exegesis rather than unaided logic or philosophical speculation. Not what our hands have done … Christ’s works, not ours is what gives us our standing before God. As Augustus Toplady once wrote:
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
To be Reformed, then, is to be Christ-centered. All errors and inconsistencies in the church arise, I believe, when our interpretations fail to be Christ-centered. Unless our study, however diligent, leads us to see that all Scripture points to Jesus Christ, our study is in vain. The importance of the Bible (OT & NT) is that it testifies about Jesus Christ (John 1:43-45, Acts 3:18, Acts 17:2-3, 2 Tim 3:14-15,1 Pet 1:10-12, Rom 1:1-3, 16:25-27, Luke 24:25-27 & 44-46). Some of the errors that arise from not being Christ-centered are the emerging church, synergism, Catholicism, that one can lose salvation, four-point Calvinism, and some forms of dispensationalism (which are Israelocentric rather than Christocentric). To learn more of what I mean by this please read my essay called Five Errors that Arise from Christ-Replacements. When God begins to open our understanding to a sense of God's distinguishing mercy to us the reality that we are debtors, great debtors to the sovereign grace of God, will greatly humble us because we know that it is this which alone makes us to differ from the perishing world! It is grace itself that gives us the will, the faith and the desire to obey.
Secondly, and related to this is the Reformed emphasis on the sovereignty of God over good, evil and everything. That there is nothing outside His immediate control and He works all things for His own good purposes. There is no greater pillow to rest my head upon.
Thirdly, I love the historical roots and heritage that Reformed churches maintain in corporate worship. I love the corporate worship, the corporate confession of sin, the liturgy, the preaching of the word, and especially the sacraments. I had previously never imagined I would like liturgical worship but I have found now that it is not something I can do without.
GD: There has been resurgence of the Reformed Christianity in the USA. What factors under God have led to this?
JH: Some book publishers like Banner of Truth certainly helped lay the early foundation by re-publishing so many great Reformed and puritan works. But it also appears that God has used the Internet in some amazing ways. This is my theory so take it with a grain of salt, but prior to the Internet many Christians lived in relatively isolated denominational cloisters and had limited engagement with the ideas and exegesis of other Christian traditions. The Internet allows all ideas to be put on the table and when people take the time to read about Reformed Theology, I believe many see it as being the most faithful to Scripture. This is why so many Christians have been persuaded when weighing it against the ideas of their own denomination or tradition. So in theory, the role that the Internet has played has been to place ideas side by side and let the readers determine which ideas best fit the Biblical data. The Holy Spirit has used this medium mightily in this difficult time to be alive. Ultimately it is God who opens people’s eyes and understanding, but the means of grace is more widely available with the advent of the Internet.
GD: It is evidently a good thing that sites like "Monergism" have made Reformed theological resources readily available on the internet. We should use modern means of communication just like the Reformers utilised the printing press. But do you think that there is a danger that "Googling" can sometimes replace proper thought, reflection and research? What can be done to avoid producing "instant experts" who have read something on the net and then think they know it all?
JH: Phil Johnson once said: “My advice to young Calvinists is to learn your theology from the historic mainstream Calvinist authors, not from blogs and discussion forums on the Internet. Some of the forums may be helpful in pointing you to more important resources.” I have to agree with Phil here. Understanding the Scripture takes a great deal of reflection and prayer. It is true that many of us are quick to claim expertise but I believe when something novel appears we need to take the time to weigh it carefully with the Christians who have gone before us. After having debated with non-Calvinists for many years now I have some advice for those who wish to persuade others of the same: patience, patience, patience. You would think that proving beyond a doubt that something is scriptural would be enough to persuade someone but this is not usually the case. Like a farmer we must seed the garden and let God do the rest. Many of us are often too eager to bring others on board. It is not necessary. Just stick with the text of Scripture, reason with them, but be humble and patient for the outcome. I have witnessed some of the most unlikely folks come to embrace the fullness of God’s grace in Christ this way.

GD: You also contribute to a blog, "Reformation Theology". What made you get involved in blogging?

JH: The blog has given me the opportunity to express publicly the overflow of the ministry at Monergism.com. Many persons write me emails with questions; others want to debate. The emails with the best questions or those who oppose us theologically have actually provided me with the best material and given the opportunity to lay out their inconsistencies alongside the authority of God’s word. It is my belief that the degree to which we think wrong thoughts about God is the degree to which we commit idolatry. Obviously, none of us perfectly thinks our thoughts after God but I believe God would have us, by His grace, live our lives and think as consistently as possible with His word. So I believe in the importance of sound doctrine and the need to communicate it here so that more and more people would have God-glorifying thoughts.

GD: What is your take on the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

JH: Overall I am truly not so sure the benefits outweigh the negatives. There is an overwhelming amount of garbage out there, even on Christian blogs. It’s like white noise and the amount of data is so overwhelming that, to some degree, spirituality seems to be lost somewhere in the midst of it. Too much news, politics, gossip and poor etiquette on Christian blogs makes for chaos. For the discerning there is indeed good material out there for sure, but we should make an effort to be disciplined in our consumption. My advice is to spend more time in prayer and reading time-tested or trusted authors. Too much time reading the latest newsworthy item on every blog seems a bit counter-productive. Advancing the kingdom requires humility and a great trust in the Lord.

GD: Which blogs do you found helpful?
JH: On the homepage of Monergism.com I posted a list of some of the blogs I frequent. I now mostly scan blogs to mine for great gems, that is, scholarly or pastoral essays and MP3s to add to our database which we update daily. I also like to read from articles and blogs that I disagree with as I find the inconsistencies found therein to be some of the best material for stirring my imagination to write.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you like to meet?
JH: John Owen, a theologian after my own heart.

GD: Good choice. Now, "Monergism" is also an online bookstore. What is the best theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
JH: The book I turn back to time and again is The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall. This is one of the greatest classics of Christian literature, a book that every Christian should read. Every time I hand the book to a friend they return to me with raving reviews that it has changed their life. It is an exposition of Ephesians 6 on the Christians’ armour, but it is both devotional and theological in nature, saturated with grace. While is it only commenting on a few verses of Scripture, the hardcover is 600 pages in length. Talk about being exhaustive, the Puritans really knew how to milk a passage for all it's worth. If you really want to bless someone, give this to someone as a gift.
GD: Apparently, you are a convinced amillennialist. It seems to me that premilleniallism is gaining ground in the Reformed camp on both sides of the Atlantic. What factors are leading to that and should we be concerned?
JH: Interesting, this has not been my experience. I personally know of no amillennialists who have become premillennial, but many premillennialists who have become amillennialists. There are so few amillennialists to begin with that I do not know premillennialism could gain ground. In fact, in the USA I never met an amillennialist until a few years ago – it has always been a small minority. Now there seems to be a growing interest in it. If what you say is true I would be surprised but not that concerned.

GD: Maybe things aren't as bad as this gloomy Welshman thought. Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music (not necessarily Christian)?

JH: I find myself consistently listening to Johan Sebastian Bach, & Hymns by Augustus Toplady, Horatius Bonar.
For not necessarily Christian music I like:
Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix, just about anything by The Cure, "Emmenence Front" by The Who.

GD: What is the biggest problem facing Evangelical Reformed Christianity at this time and how should we respond?
JH: I believe one of the biggest problems facing Evangelicals is the false teaching that Christianity is primarily about what we do for Jesus, not about what He has done for us. This has profoundly negative implications for everything else we exegete in the Bible. Ethics, in this case, has trumped salvation. This error really strikes at the heart of the gospel and there is no doubt the problem has reached crisis levels in our local churches. In the 1980s, some in the church had issue with receiving Christ as Lord, but today the difficulty seems to be with receiving Christ as Savior. It is pretty horrifying. Jesus and Paul seemed to have no difficulty confronting heresy but oddly the spirit of the age drives many Christians to have an aversion to it. Yes, we must respond to the crisis with humility, that is, with personal and corporate repentance and prayer before we boldly confront the heresy.
Also, together with J.I. Packer I also believe that pastors and teachers must become much more familiar with the doctrine of regeneration. A wrong understanding of this doctrine spreads like leaven through all of our other preaching and doctrines. Get this doctrine right and our other doctrines tend to fall into line according to scripture.
Thank you again for your questions Guy. May the Lord richly bless your online ministry.

GD: And thank you very much John for dropping by for this conversation. May the Lord continue to bless your work at Monergism.

7 comments:

David Mackereth said...

Guy,

Another fascinating interview.

I very much like the emphasis on the sovereignty of Christ in salvation and the desire to place the central focus on Him. I like the comment at the end about the doctrine of regeneration.

I myself was once a premillenarian, and held these views, I believe, with a good conscience.

It took me a long time and a lot of intense thinking about scripture to come to an ammillenial position. This was about 10 years ago.

I can understand why people do hold to premillenial views, but I can no longer myself consider such a doctrine to have intellectual credibility, although many good, intelligent, and sincere Christians hold to that view.

Thanks again.

David.

Robert said...

Guy,
Good interview.
I've been a fan of Monergism ever since I stumbled across them after I was saved (it's been 3 years now) and I love the site. As John put it "a clearing house for good theology" and he's right!

I love the doctrines of Grace simply because it exalts God and I cannot stomach anything less.

John, God bless you brother, thanks for a great site.

Maximum Massimo said...

Thanks for the interview. It's nice to get to know a bit about the founder of one of my favorite web sites.

Blessings...

Nathan W. Bingham said...

I am so thankful for Monergism.com and all its resources! It was good to have a greater insight into the man behind the ministry.

Guy, I am really enjoying these interviews, please keep them coming.

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks for the encouraging comments everyone.

Sorry, Nathan, only one more to go in this series - I tend to do them in 7's. You'll have to wait until the New Year for the next lot.

Erik said...

Thanks for an insightful interview. I live here in Portland, Oregon and go to the Monergism Books warehouse on a monthly basis. Their selection of books is in another stratosphere! It's great to know that when I need a book with theological meat and won't break my bank, I can go to Monergism Books. By the way, keep up the fantastic interviews and posts!

BobW said...

I have found this interview most compelling in many ways, but the most revealing is the very fact that God, indeed, gives to each of us the freedom to make a choice. John Hendryx obviously travelled many roads before making the correct choice to follow the Christ as the Holy Spirit moved in his life. Although I disagree with the pilgrimage of Calvinism, etc. that he has chosen, we do agree that we are saved by grace through faith...Jesus alone is Lord.