Thursday, June 25, 2009

Young, Restless, Reformed by Colin Hansen

Young, Restless, Reformed: a journalist's journey with the new Calvinists,
Colin Hansen, Crossway, 2008, 160pp
Colin Hansen, a journalist with Christianity Today spent two years of his life mixing it with some of the top movers and shakers in Reformed Christianity in America. He had begun to notice a resurgence of interest in Reformed theology in some unexpected places and set out to investigate some of the reasons for this theological and spiritual renewal. It seems that a new generation of believers has grown tired with bog standard evangelicalism. They want depth, truth, and reality. And they are looking to Reformed theology, or more precisely, the sovereign God of biblical revelation to satisfy their longings and transform their lives.
Large conferences such as Passion, New Attitude and Together for the Gospel have exposed a new generation of believers to the Reformed faith. The ministry of John Piper is another factor. Piper's preaching (freely broadcast on the internet) and his books such as Desiring God have had a huge impact. Many cite Piper as the reason why they embraced the Reformed faith. But the Minneapolis pastor is certainly not the only influential figure. The long and faithful ministry of R. C. Sproul has had an effect. Al Mohler has been busily taking the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary back to its Calvinistic roots. Thousands of men are now leaving the seminary with Reformed convictions. As well as preachers with a more traditional Reformed stance like John MacArthur, leaders usually associated with the Charismatic movement are helping to spread the word. C. J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries is both Charismatic and Reformed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem have also helped to introduce Charismatics, who are sometimes a little light on doctrine to the wonders of Reformed theology. The controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll is reaching the unreachable with a combination of missional engagement with the culture and good old Calvinistic theology.
There are several key features of this renewed fascination with Calvinism. It seems to be a movement comprising mainly of the up and coming generation of believers who are weary with seeker sensitive megachurches. Reformed student missions are having a real impact on American campuses. It is young people who gather in their thousands at the large conference meetings.
The resurgence of the Reformed faith has crossed the dividing line between traditional Calvinistic churches and the Charismatic movement. This has had an impact on the worship style adopted at Together for the Gospel and other big conferences. Perhaps we can see something similar happening in the UK at the New Word Alive events. New Frontiers Charismatics who have embraced Reformed doctrine gather with Free Church and Anglican evangelicals to hear the likes of Don Carson against the backdrop of Charismatic style worship. It is surely a good thing that Charismatics are being drawn to the doctrines of grace. We should rejoice in that. But there are still some differences between the traditional Reformed Churches and our Reformed Charismatic brethren. The use of noisy music groups, song leaders and other accouterments of Charismatic worship is one of them. Then there is the issue of the continuation or not of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Charismatic theology sometimes does not give enough emphasis to the fact that the Holy Spirit is active in the church in, by and with the Word. I'm not saying that fellowship with Calvinistic Charismatics should be curtailed, not at all. We stand united by the gospel of sovereign grace, but real differences should not be swept under the carpet.
The name of John Piper seems to pop up again and again in the book. I hope there isn't a danger of the new Calvinism becoming overly reliant on one man. In the second half of the 20th century Reformed evangelicalism in the UK was dominated by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his death left a huge hole in the movement. Still today discussion in fraternals and conferences can be brought to a shuddering halt when an old timer recalls something that "the Doctor" said on an issue. Leadership of the Reformed resurgence in the States seems to be more collegiate. Perhaps there is less reliance on one central figure than was the case with "the Doctor", but a glance at the index will show that Piper does seem to feature rather a lot in Hansen's account.
Among the new Calvinists there is an appreciation for Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans. A chapter is devoted to Edwards, the 'Big Man on Campus' at Yale university. But above all, it seems that people are embracing Calvinism because they have seen that the Reformed faith is the faith of Scripture, deep and true. And contrary to what a UK-based critic of the new Calvinism had to say (see here), I don't think that what we have here is a merger of Calvinism and worldliness. From what I can see the "Young, Restless, Reformed" aren't simply embracing a form of intellectual Calvinism. They have gathered that truth properly understood transforms lives and calls for radical obedience to Christ. Some of them have endured painful opposition from their churches as they preached the sovereignty of God in salvation. At best they are passionate for holiness and concerned to reach the masses with the gospel of grace. New churches are being planted and there is a strong desire to proclaim Christ to the nations. We should not reject this movement as "worldly" simply because of concerns over musical styles. Reformed catholicity of spirit demands that love for the truth should be recognised and encouraged wherever we find it. Worldliness cannot be defined by a list of evangelical taboos. That approach is more Fundamentalist than Reformed.
Maybe I'm not best placed to judge on this, but I think that Hansen is overstating his case in suggesting that what we have here is revival. However, we should be grateful that many in America are returning to the deep wells of Reformed theology. A recovery of vibrant Calvinism that is God-centred, Christ exalting and Spirit dependent is surely to be welcomed.


Augustinian Successor said...

"We should not reject this movement as "worldly" simply because of concerns over musical styles. Reformed catholicity of spirit demands that love for the truth should be recognised and encouraged wherever we find it. Worldliness cannot be defined by a list of evangelical taboos. That approach is more Fundamentalist than Reformed."

Can't resist this, but to highlight that it's not just the Fundies, but the *Puritans* too. Of course, confessional Protestants have the same gripe. And they're the loudest when it comes all things catholic and catholicity. Not to forget the WCF-Regulative Worship Presbyterians.

Law should not be confused with the Gospel; the left-hand with the right-hand kingdom; the Old and New Testaments.

Romans 12 - living sacrifices, be not transformed by the world, etc. ... this is our reasonable worship ...

Conclusion: Drums, electric guitars, etc. are not meant to be in the church. These destroy or blur the distinction between sacred and secular in the church. This distinction must be upheld at all times. For the church is made visible only in the proclamation of Word and Sacrament. Nothing must DETRACT from the GOD's Service to His people ...

Exiled Preacher said...

I agree with you on worship groups in church. I think I made that clear in the review. But I don't think that the whole movement should be rejected because of that one thing. There are bigger issues at stake than the RP.

I'm not in a position to judge the hearts of those who deploy worship groups etc, which is why I'm recluctant to label them worldly, which is to love what God hates and hate what God loves.

Gary Benfold said...

I'm far from convinced that there's a distinction between sacred and secular. There's one between holy and sinful, but that's not the same thing. The idea that some instruments are somehow inappropriate, and others fine (as opposed to helpful/not helpful in practical terms) is ridiculous.

Exiled Preacher said...

Yes, Gary. It is wrong to say that using drums, electric guitars etc in church is sinful. Without wanting to engage in a long discussion about this matter, I might want to argue that they are inappropriate, unhelpful, or uneccesary for worship. But the terms "sinful" and "worldly" don't really apply.

Anonymous said...

I think that's a reasonable and fair analysis Guy.

For what it's worth, without getting into the details re: secular v. sacred , if you listen to Piper's Gravity and Gladness series on worship I think you will see that the prevailing departure point from what I believe is biblically ordered worship is to be found in a blurring of the edges in the distinction between corporate worship in the body of Christ and the worship that is all of life (1 Cor 10:31).

Those including Piper who promote (maybe too strong a word) a more modern worship style do so on the basis that that distinction is largely artificial or exaggerated. I think the failure to see the distinction is dangerous.

The equation tends to becomes this: if I can do this to the glory of God here (somewhere else) then surely I can do it to the glory of God in Church. That has the potential to be deadly. That in essence is a denial of the Regulative Principle and a re-embracing of the Anglican principle of "if it's not prohibited, it is permitted".

Thus Piper concludes:

"In the New Testament there is a stunning indifference to the outward forms and places of worship. And there is at the same time a radical intensification of worship as an inward, spiritual experience that has no bounds and pervades all of life. These emphases were recaptured in the Reformation and came to clear expression in the Puritan wing of the Reformed tradition"

While there is truth here, surely it is a somewhat confused picture and somewhat the NT really stunningly indifferent to outward forms of worship or is it only so if you do not believe in the regulative principle of worship and don't have a clear distinction between life and corporate worship? Those who believe the RP also believe the NT is stunningly clear in what is commanded and therefore permitted in public worship while understanding that there is a greater freedom in life outside of Church.

Does the fact that worship pervades all of life mean that God has no special view or regulation of corporate worship carried out by what he calls, in the public place, the body of Christ - (1 Cor 11)?

And how come the Puritans, who clearly expressed this came up with a radically different form of worship than Piper has? True the Puritans practised a radical sanctified lifestyle in keeping with the inward principle of worship, but that radical worship mentality also strongly pervaded their corporate worship as well resulting in a radical reformation and simplification of worship and a radical separation from what was acceptable outside of the gathered body of Christ. Shall we just ignore them? The Puritans did not reject culture and art, but they kept them in their place - outside corporate worship...which was to be radically God-centred and God-ward.

I say this not to start an argument but rather to re-orientate the discussion of these matters which can get bogged down in debatable details while missing the fundamental principles. I see this in both contemporary camps and in conservative camps.

Gary Benfold said...

The Puritans were over-reacting to a Catholic tendency towards beauty and pomp that had excluded truth. They - just as much as we - were children of their day. People tend to be quite selective in their appeal to the Puritans - I don't see anyone (outside the Amish and the like) who adopt plain dress, as they were accustomed to.
The regulative principle- which tends to be the 'I'll use it to dismiss what I don't like' principle - may, perhaps, be used to eliminate all musical instruments. It can't be used to eliminate some.

Gary Benfold said...

Guy - thanks for a balanced response to my comment. the problem is 'inappropriate, unhelpful or unnecessary' are personal judgements. 'Inappropriate' comes close to 'wrong', which is what you're denying - unless you mean musically, in which case we need the verdict of musicians. But the professional musicians involved in said conferences don't seem to have made that judgement. 'Unhelpful' can mean 'Difficult to sing to' - which again is a musical judgement - or 'distracting' - in which case it's purely personal rather than principled. I don't find it distracting - I do find old-fashioned organs wheezing along very distracting - what are we to do? 'Unnecessary' - well, that I admit. All that's necessary is a tuning fork - or not even that!
The Old Testament is rich in instruments used to accompany praise. For the life of my I cannot see how Christ's offices make those redundant! Sacrifices, yes. Temple, yes. Robes, yes. Cymbals? Er... er...

Exiled Preacher said...

That was a very helpful intervention "mrbcnews". As you said, the sacred/secular distinction is artificial because all life is subject to the lordship of Christ. The issue is what is appropriate for public worship according to the NT. Just because I listen to U2 for pleasure, doesn't mean that I should introduce "U2charists" in church. God forbid! The same goes for classical music, though, doesn't it? I love Bruckner's 7th, but wouldn't want it played in church on a Sunday.

I don't really want to get into a big debate over worship groups, Gary. We've been there, done that, and got nowhere once before.

Gary Benfold said...

That's fine, Guy - it's your blog. do you remember Road Runner running over the edge of a cliff and it being a while before he realises there's nothing supporting him - and falls?

Exiled Preacher said...

Yes, but I wouldn't want to put you through all that again.

David Reimer said...

Gary wrote: "do you remember Road Runner running over the edge of a cliff and it being a while before he realises there's nothing supporting him - and falls?"

No, I don't. I'm pretty sure that would have been Wile E. Coyote, not the indestructible Road Runner.


And yes, I am a pedant. Not very miserable though. Most days.

Gary Benfold said...

David - thanks, I'm a pedant, too. But actually, I'm pretty sure (though Wile E Coyote certainly qualifies) it's just about every cartoon character in history. Fred Flintstone certainly did it, Yogi Bear did it, probably even Huckleberry Hound.
Spoiler alert - you did know these were cartoon characters, didn't you?

Exiled Preacher said...

Yabba dabba do!