Tag Archives: Reformed

God Knew I Would Blog This

john_calvin_-_young

500 years ago today—on July 10, 1509—one of the most important theologians in Christian history was born. John Calvin.

A second-generation reformer during the Protestant Reformation, Calvin was a scholar out of the Renaissance humanist tradition and produced a striking amount of scholarly output, including commentaries on most books of the Bible and his magnum opus, Institutes of the Christian Religion–one of the most significant systematic theologies ever written.

But he’s also known for Calvinism—the theological approach (also known as Reformed) that emphasizes things like God’s sovereignty, predestination, and the inherent depravity of man. And Calvinism, strange as it may seem to some, is now more popular than ever.

Back in March, I wrote a blog post about why I think Calvinism is increasingly resonant and attractive to younger generations of Christians. I mentioned such things as the fact that Calvinism is about certainty, that it doesn’t shy away from talking about sin and yet also emphasizes grace, and that it views God in the highest way possible. Read the whole post here.

I would consider myself Reformed, Calvinist, whatever you want to call it. I believe God is huge and in complete control and worthy of all praise. He’s God. All notions of truth and justice begin and end with the reality of his being. In other words: what he does—whatever he does—is true and just, even if it sometimes doesn’t seem that way from our perspective. Would it be just if God decided to condemn every human to hell for eternity and didn’t save any of us? Yes. He can and should do whatever he wants. But that he DOES save some of us, in spite of our sin, is truly remarkable. He’s a loving God.

Anyway, in as much as I agree with Calvinism and most of its controversial points, I have to say that the “neo-Calvinists” and the current crop of Reformed defenders do sometimes annoy me. It sometimes seems like they love Calvin more than Jesus, and elevate TULIP above even the Bible. They know who they are. They’ve pit themselves against “the rest of the world” in a sort of battle mentality, cloistering together with like-minded comrades, and it isn’t doing anyone any good. Calvin would not be pleased with the way that some Calvinists have commandeered his theological namesake.

And another thing that annoys me is the way that some Calvinists and Reformed types have misinterpreted sola scriptura. One of the five solas that are associated with the Reformation, sola scriptura (“by scripture alone”) was meant to articulate that scripture held the final and only infallible authority for Christianity, not that it was the only thing that mattered or the only thing that held any truth. Some neo-Calvinists act as though the Bible is the only thing that a good Christian ever needs, that they should just study it and look to it alone for all questions and matters of import.

But none of the Reformers would have agreed with this “just me and my Bible” approach to the faith. They all thought that it was important to have theological guidance and that we should build on the orthodox beliefs that the church had already established. The Bible was the most important thing, yes, and its authority superseded everything else… but it wasn’t the only thing. Calvin was all about the Bible and wanted it to be held in high esteem (much higher than himself), but he also understood that it was a document that needed to be thoughtfully interpreted and systematically analyzed through lenses and thoughts that others had articulated before (like Augustine, for example).

The Bible is completely and utterly true and authoritative, but it is not necessarily self-evident. It needs human minds to makes sense of it, and many minds throughout history have taken up the task. Calvin was one of them, but he wasn’t the only one. There are many others who have looked at the Bible and made different insights and saw different, though equally helpful patterns and themes. And Calvin would be the first to point this out.

Hipster Church Tour: Mars Hill Church

As part of the research for my book, I’ve been visiting churches all over the country over the past year—a tour of “America’s hippest churches,” you might say (though soon to expand to Europe as well). The goal is to gain a good bit of qualitative data on the subject I’m writing about, to understand firsthand how various church bodies are fitting in to this whole thing. I have stopped at dozens of churches in many states and talked with countless people, and every now and then on my blog I will describe in depth my various observations about these churches.

The first stop on my tour was Jacob’s Well in Kansas City. Read about that here.

Next on the tour (which will continue every month or so, for the next year at least) is Seattle’s Mars Hill Church.

Church Name: Mars Hill Church
Location: Seattle, WA
Head Pastor: Mark Driscoll (officially “Preaching and Theology Pastor”)

Summary: Mars Hill Church in Seattle is one of the defining churches of hipster Christianity. It’s the church of Mark Driscoll, the original cussing hipster pastor, whose strong, controversial personality is a huge part of the church’s success. Founded in 1996, Mars Hill now holds services at seven campuses across the Seattle area, ministering to many thousands of young attendees every week. I visited the church on a Sunday in November, and attended both the original campus (where Driscoll preaches live) and a satellite campus in Lake City where Driscoll speaks via a televised feed.

Building: The main campus of Mars Hill is located in a massive warehouse style building in Ballard. The sanctuary is a large, darkly lit hall with modern hanging lamp fixtures and an elaborate stage complete with a massive backdrop of LCD panels. The Lake City campus is an actual renovated church—a smallish church complete with vaulted ceilings, stained glass, and pews.

Congregation:
According to Lake City campus pastor James Harleman, the congregation of Mars Hill is 40% churched, 30% ex-churched, and 30% un-churched. And just from my cursory observations, I would venture that the congregation is 80% under the age of 40. They’re young, and they’re hip. I saw lots of tattoos, skinny jeans, v-necks and Jesse James scarves in the crowd when I was there.

Music:
There is no one “worship band,” but rather a stable of standalone bands that alternate playing at the main Ballard campus and “house bands” for the various satellite campuses. With names like Ex-Nihilo, Red Letter, and E-Pop, these bands tend to play indie rock versions of classic hymns like “Nothing But the Blood” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” more often than the flavor-of-the-week contemporary worship songs. At the Lake City campus on the Sunday I visited, for example, a band called Sound and Vision performed math-rock arrangements of songs like “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” and “All Creatures of Our God and King,” complete with Nintendo-sounding beeps.

Arts: A lot of artists and designers attend Mars Hill, and many of them “tithe their talents” to the church, designing logos and websites and printed materials for the church’s branding. The result is that Mars Hill has a very cool, cutting-edge aesthetic that doesn’t feel top down (because it isn’t; most of it is made by non-paid church volunteers). The church also expresses its love of art by hanging up local artists’ work on the walls and by hosting film screenings (called “Cinemagogue”) and film review blogs.

Technology: Mars Hill is a very technology-happy church. The sound and light systems in the buildings are high tech, and the use of video is widespread and professional-quality. During the service I attended, texting was also incorporated—with the congregation being urged to text in their questions during the sermon, which Pastor Mark might answer at the end. Mars Hill’s website is predictably high-tech and stylish, and features its own social networking site, called “The City,” meant to “enhance” and “deepen” the community life of the church. This is the type of church that is always on the cutting edge of technology and finds a way to incorporate all the latest doo-dads and media into the life of the church.

Neighborhood: The main campus of Mars Hill is located in Ballard, in Northwestern Seattle. It’s a trendy area these days—full of artsy shops, restaurants, cafes, theaters and home to many a yuppie. Mars Hill is big into missional dispersion, however, and has other locations across Seattle and Washington: Downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Lake City, Olympia, Shoreline, and West Seattle.

Preaching: Mark Driscoll is heavily in the Calvinist/Reformed camp, and likes to preach on things like sin, man’s depravity, Christ’s atonement, justification, the cross, and how dumb “religion” and “legalism” are. He also likes to be controversial and doesn’t shy away from taboo topics and language. On the Sunday I visited, Driscoll’s message was on the Dance of Mahanaim section of the Song of Solomon (an “ancient striptease,” as he referred to it, and “one of the steamiest passages in the Bible”). During his sermon—part of “The Peasant Princess” series—Driscoll, looking like a metrosexual jock in a tight t-shirt, cross necklace and faux hawk, talked about how wives should be “visually generous” with their husbands (i.e. they should keep the lights on when undressing, during sex, etc.).

Quote from pulpit:
“God doesn’t look down and see good people and bad people; He sees bad people and the Lord Jesus.”

Quote from website:
“The great reformer Martin Luther rightly said that, as sinners, we are prone to pursue a relationship with God in one of two ways. The first is religion/spirituality and the second is the gospel. The two are antithetical in every way.”

Calvinism: So Hot Right Now

To the surprise of many, Time magazine recently listed “The New Calvinism” as the third most important idea changing the world “right now.” What?? 500 years after the birth of John Calvin, is his theological namesake really enjoying resurgence in 2009?

I guess I’m not totally surprised. I’ve noticed the trend myself. I read Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed last year. I’ve been to Mars Hill Church in Seattle. I’ve witnessed many young Christian friends getting totally passionate about the Reformation and everything it represents.

But why is it happening now? What is it about Calvinism that is suddenly more appealing than it was just a decade ago? Here are a few of my initial thoughts—as someone who increasingly identifies with Reformed ideas (though not 100%):

Calvinism is about certainty.
In an era in which certainty is hard to come by and ambiguity is frequently championed, more and more young people are longing for something that is rock-solid certain. In Calvinism, there is no second-guessing about whether I’ve done enough or prayed the sinners prayer earnestly enough to be saved, because it has nothing to do with my own powers.

Calvinism emphasizes sin (total depravity) and places it at the starting point, rather than as a footnote. It cuts us humans down to size from the get go, underscoring both our desperate need for redemption and righteousness and our utter inability to achieve it ourselves. I think this really resonates with younger people today, who have grown up in a world that has told them they are good boys and girls who can do whatever they want to in life. They’ve been met with yeses at every turn, but are longing for nos. They recognize that they are far from the angelic harbingers of goodness that their parents, teachers, and advertisers have deemed them. Calvinism tells it like it is.

Calvinism views God in the highest way possible. He is sovereign and fearsome and awesome in ways we can’t begin to understand. While “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” doesn’t sound comforting, many people would still rather be in the hands of an angry God who is sovereign than a buddy God who is only partially sovereign and sometimes surprised (see Open Theism). In times of crisis and tragedy, an all-powerful God who effects everything to his purposes is so much more comforting than a God who isn’t in complete control.

Calvinism has a beautiful picture of grace. It is irresistible and unconditional. When God sets his eyes on us, we can’t escape his pursuit (and who would want a God who couldn’t capture those he sought to save?). As Sufjan Stevens beautifully sings in “Seven Swans”: He will take you / If you run / He will chase you / Because he is the Lord.

It rings true to many young people that nothing they can humanly do could ever achieve salvation—at least more true than the idea that God, the author and perfecter of our faith, saves only on the condition of some action on the part of the saved. On the contrary, the Calvinist view insists that we have no recourse to self-sufficiency or pride. As Paul writes in Galatians, “far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14).

Calvinism fears God. A healthy fear of God is totally lost on contemporary Christianity, which sees him as more of a “buddy/friend/therapist/guru” than the creator and sustainer of the universe. More and more young people are growing dubious of God-lite and prefer thinking of him as a commanding, dominating, dangerous God who deserves our deferential fear.

Calvinism ground itself in the bible rather than sugarcoated feel-goodisms. Consider what J.I. Packer says about this when he contrasts the “new” and “old” gospels in his famous introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ:

“The pitiable Savior and the pathetic God of modern pulpits are unknown to the old gospel. The old gospel tells men that they need God, but not that God needs them (a modern falsehood); it does not exhort them to pity Christ but announces that Christ has pitied them, though pity was the last thing they deserved. It never loses sight of the divine majesty and sovereign power of the Christ whom it proclaims but rejects flatly all representations of him that would obscure his free omnipotence.”

Calvinism is a little bit edgy, dark, and punk rock. It is less about hugs, Sunday School pink lemonade and “God loves you” than it is about discipline, deference and “God hates you in your sin; you are a wretch who needs God’s grace.” It’s not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Kids like this.