Wednesday, December 23, 2009
As a "Calvinist," I treasure the Bible's truths about the glory of God and Christ; the good, wise and sovereign rule of God in all things; the efficacy of God's electing grace and Jesus' definite atonement; the hope that comes from God's preservation and the call to perseverance; the present and coming-more-fully kingdom of Christ where righteousness reigns; and the promised share of His glory we'll experience in the consummation. I treasure these things, as I know a lot of people do.
But I'm also a Pharisee. I tend toward a kind of care for detail and precision, toward "getting things right," that undermines catholicity and charity (see here). As a Pharisee, I also find myself suspicious of a lot of things, including joy (see here). Tight and sober. Suspicious and narrow. Pharisee.
Most of my Calvinist friends maintain that of all Christians Calvinists should be the most joyful and the most humble. We should be. We're not. I'm not. Let me not project.
Merely analyzing the truth doesn't make us humble. Neither does merely being suspicious make us safe with the truth. Pharisees think analyzing and suspecting are enough. And so, in time, the Pharisee's life becomes almost entirely negative. It's negative in attitude. But it's negative also because it's negating; it's a "contra-" life, a life a being against things.
But we have to defend against error. We have to guard the truth. We must protect the gospel. I know. I know. Pharisee.
There's something else that makes me a Pharisee. It underlies most of the other things that turn celebrants of Truth into gnat-straining Pharisees. Here's the third reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, another reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee in the Calvinist... is afraid. Fear loiters in his heart and mind like a senior feeding pigeons in Central Park.
The Pharisee lives with a chronic fear. That's why the Reformed types are so often the 'chicken littles' of the Christian world--running everywhere, writing everywhere, screaming everywhere, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" And even when we're not as manic as that, we're quietly, respectfully afraid. Just like the Pharisees of old.
We're afraid someone will take our place--the "others" who don't believe this, who don't practice that, or worse, who do practice that! Not them! We're afraid the church will be weakened and corrupted, that tares will grow up with the wheat. We're afraid our own hollow spiritual lives will be discovered. We're afraid our children won't be believers or won't do well in school (and we're more afraid of the latter than the former). We're afraid the culture is going to get worse and overrun the church. We're afraid of men's faces.
Fear, fear, fear. Everywhere there is fear.
But didn't Jesus say the wheat and tare would grow together? Didn't He say the love of many would grow cold? Didn't the Savior say there would be wolves and false Christs and deceivers? Of course He did. But the Pharisee says in his heart, "Yes, Lord. Of course, you're right. I believe that. Let me just remove this one little tare or patch of tares over here." The Pharisee is not only afraid, he's also blind. I can't tell the wheat from the tares; the Lord's angels will one day stick the sickle in the harvest to reap. But I don't remember that because we're afraid.
Then the Pharisee speaks: "But what if that takes too long? What if bad things happen in the meantime? What if... what if... what if...." Pharisee.
Pick an issue. My first response is fear, not faith. I don't call it "fear"; I call it "concern." That's more respectable. And who is respectable if not the Pharisee. And even when I do call it "fear," I pretend I mean something other than being afraid. Gotta keep my head up; I'm a Pharisee.
And this is why Pharisaical tendencies make us such bad Calvinists (by which I mean Christians, though not as if Calvinists are the only Christians). The scared little Pharisee in me is a practical atheist. He acts as though the truth I know about God really isn't at work. And it's a nasty little cycle. My fear that God won't act--at least how I want Him to act--causes me to act in my own wisdom or strength. Which then makes me afraid all the more. And so it goes until I'm wrapped and squeezed by an Anaconda of fear. The Pharisee.
Before I was a Calvinist, I suppose you could call me a semi-Pelagian, Arminian, dispensationalist. I suppose. I didn't have the labels then, but that's a fair sense of how I thought and acted. Not everyone wearing those labels thought this way, but I acted as though everything depended on me. My action in the world was the determining factor--whether that meant I had to be especially insightful and convincing in something like evangelism or Johnny wouldn't "get saved," or whether I had to "keep myself saved" in some way. My theology was bad. And my chief fear then was, what if I fail.
Then I discovered this mighty God on whom the governance of the universe rests. He was pleased to use means--human and otherwise--but He was the One ruling and guaranteeing the success of His will. How liberating that was! So I was freed from the fears associated with my performance.
But I wasn't freed from being a Pharisee. I just chose other fears. Excuse me, other "concerns." The kind of concerns that keep me employed as a Pharisee for as long as I would like, because, let's face it, there's no shortage of things to be "concerned" about. I can point out problems everywhere. I'm a Pharisee.
But the problem with Pharisees is they feel their fear and they fail to do anything constructive.
So I am "concerned" and not serving. I am afraid and not loving. I am "aghast" rather than empathetic. I am "hesitant" rather than enthusiastic. I am "alarmed" rather than steadfast. I'm an expert in fear and its synonyms. I can think of seventeen synonyms right now.
But how many synonyms for "grace" or "trust" can I count? Pharisee. How many can you count?
I am a Pharisee. Hear me roar--in fear.
In the end, the Pharisee is a silly man, a silly contradiction to the Calvinist. Fear? Really? Look upon Jesus the King you silly little man! Look to the Lord of glory!
What is this new fad you're up in arms about? What is this new "movement" causing your temperature to rise? What is this weakness in your life and your church making your shoulders tense? What threat over the horizon really is a threat to the Risen King and Ruler of All Creation who defeated death, pushed back the grave, and promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church?
Why are you afraid, O my soul? Why are you timorous, O my soul? My soul, I will look to the Lord who counsels "Be not afraid for I am with you."
I am a Calvinist, and I am an afraid Pharisee. I shouldn't be. What I need is a fresh glimpse of Jesus. The One I need to fear is God alone.
I'm reminded of another Calvinist (speaking anachronistically, of course) who faced fears and terror everywhere--real ones. But he glimpsed Jesus. And he spoke, "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" (Deut. 10:12-13)
O, Father, grant that perfect love would cast out all fear as we live for you and reverence your holy Name.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Last time I tried to reflect on how a certain "bent" toward precision, accuracy, concern for detail seems to blend together with the rich exacting resources of Reformed theology and history to make Pharisees of those who lose sight of the object of our attention and affection: Jesus. If you care more about "getting it right" than you care about "getting close to Jesus," then you'll drift toward the Pharisees. You'll swallow a camel and strain a gnat.
But let me not project onto you the things that happen in my heart and head. I am bent toward all those things, and I lose sight of Jesus too often and for too long.
I'm a Pharisee. And I'm a Calvinist. And I'm told and believe those two things don't belong together. But why do they so often come together, like a dark prize hidden in the Cracker Jacks of the faith?
Here's the second reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, another reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee and the Calvinist are both suspicious.
Now I'm suspicious of a lot of things, but I'll just mention one. I'm suspicious of joy. Yep. Now, not my joy. That's another problem.
No. Like a good Pharisee, other people's joy makes me nervous. Not all people. Just those people who don't express their joy the precise way I think they should. You see, without the "appropriate bounds" their joy just may make them careless, lead them to error, hurt the church and cause of Christ. Their joy is combustible; it's dangerous. It's enthusiasm and flights of fancy that need to ballast of sobriety and sound theology.
You see, that bent toward intellectual and precise things, that concern to "get it right," sometimes leads us to suspect and question mirth, lightness, or merriment because those emotions appear too close to "trivial" for the Pharisee. If I'm serious about the truth, how can I be joyful?
I say to myself, perhaps you say to yourself, not out loud, of course: "All these happy people--happy about everything but the Truth, giving themselves to their happy little pursuits, singing loudly and clapping their hands, enthusiastic about everything--can't be trusted. They are to be suspected. They're to be watched carefully and 'taught'."
I know. I know. Teaching is good. Teaching is essential. Teaching guides the emotions. Teaching is commanded. Pharisee.
Didn't Jesus warn us of the Pharisee's teaching? For good reason. I wonder if for some of us "teaching" is simply another word for "behavioral modification," for "rehabilitation," for "re-education," for "concentration camp." People must be "taught"--by which we mean made to see everything just as I do. Pharisee.
I am a Calvinist, and I am a Pharisee. I've been "taught". Sometimes "taught" right out of joy.
Don't get me wrong. I know that joy may be expressed in all kinds of ways. I know the strong, silent type doesn't express his/her joy like the naturally outward and gregarious type. And I know that joy itself has many flavors--jubilant, quiet, solemn, tearful, and so on. But Pharisees like me only trust the quiet, solemn types. If joy gets too loud, it needs to be silenced. Pharisees like it quiet.
But then there is my good friend, C.J. Ah... there's "Reformed" spelled "p-a-r-t-y!" I love that brother! He dots all my "i's" and crosses all my "t's". So, his joy is okay. Cool, even. But he is an exception, of course, because I'm a Pharisee.
Also there is my good friend, Mark. If you think C.J. is the life of the party and Mark is a sour puss, you don't know Mark. About as silly, giddy, happy, optimistic, bright and joyful a man as you'll ever meet. Don't let the "SBC" or "Calvinist" labels fool you. Those labels are like the FBI warnings on your rented video or the "do not remove" tags on your mattress. Mark is a big... excuse me, slim ball of joyful energy. His love for the truth, like C.J., and Al and Lig' and Piper and R.C. and so many others, leads them to joy! Have you ever heard these men laugh? It's rowdy! They're serious men. And (I almost wrote "But"; you see the problem?) they're joyful men.
But not me. Not the Pharisee.
When did I become suspicious of joy? I mean joy is what the angels announce for crying out loud! (Luke 2:10)
Some of my oldest friends, going back to high school and college, would describe me as "silly." I know. I know. What happened to that guy?
Well, he got saved and he started with joy; then he turned into a Pharisee.
Now, I've always been serious. Really. Always. Ask my mom. She still tells family and friends about how my friends used to come over to play, and rather than play with them, I'd connect the Atari (now that's ol' school) to the TV and then go into my room and read. From my early teens, I've been the family counselor. I'm an old soul, born with a veil over his face (little family superstition, there), and serious.
But I used to be fairly joyful, too. I think. Maybe. You see... I can't remember. Perhaps you're like me. It's been so long since you've had a sustained life of joy, you can't remember the last time you were joyful. As a disposition not an episode. Do you remember? Having a joyful disposition for a long time?
Maybe you're a Pharisee, or a Pharisee in the making. Stop before it goes too far. Get happy. Now don't get serious about joy. Just get joyful. Or else you'll be a Pharisee. Like me.
The Pharisee lacks joy because he lacks Jesus. I don't mean Pharisees like me aren't Christians. I am I trust. I mean "the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field" (Matt. 13:44). There's something implicit in this parable that if not made explicit leaves room for my inner Pharisee. What do you suppose the man did after he bought the field? The Pharisee doesn't go on to imagine the answer. The joyful do. In his joy the man sold all and purchase the field so that he might possess and enjoy the Treasure therein. We may lack Jesus by not enjoying Jesus, by not coming into His presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore.
The Calvinist knows this. The Pharisee forgets this. Feed the Calvinist and strangle the Pharisee.
There once was a Calvinist (speaking anachronistically, of course), who was not himself a Pharisee but dealt with them a lot. He prayed for joy--my joy and yours. Here's how He prayed, "I am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them" (John 17:13). Let that sit with you. The Savior prayed for what the Calvinist Pharisee needs: the full measure of His joy.
Dear Sovereign Lord, the Joy of the world, let us know you, and thereby grant our heavy hearts liberating joy.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
1. I'm not so sure that the "new Calvinism" is all that "new." This post is helpful in explaining why.
2. The potential for making biblical truth a fad seems quite high. All fads die. If the resurgence of robust biblical theology rides an emotional crest until that superficial, emotional wave dies, so too will interest in robust biblical truth. We're all familiar enough with church history to have seen this several times over.
3. The media attention forces some superficial attempts at self-definition, and the inevitable result are "camps" of Reformed types. Add a little carnality, and then you'll hear folks saying they're of Paul, or Appolos, or Peter, or Dever, or C.J., or MacArthur, or Driscoll, or the really, really Reformed, etc when those men weren't even looking for groupies. We need a strong confessional center with the charity that celebrates secondary and tertiary distinctives. Which is why I am so encouraged by this group and the work of these friends and this growing fellowship.
4. Not only are there "camps" within Reformed circles, but it also prompts some unhealthy Reformed/non-Reformed tensions. The potential for playa hatin' is great. Well-informed leaders inside the SBC have been dealing with this enough over recent years, I think. Do we want the attention of secular news outlets stirring the cauldron of Christian disunity? We ought to be wary of such a potential outcome.
5. Goal displacement. Put simply: so much of the talk about the "new Calvinism" "winning the culture" ends up taking too many eyes off the cross, off the gospel, off the local church, off the great commission, and off the great commandment. Not all such talk does this, but enough does. And that's bad.6. False views of success. How many of us would have thought Calvinism was changing the world before this article? I suspect many of us Reformed types would feel beleagured and embattled, not victorious, etc. Now we have a news magazine ranking the work of God as #3 in the world. Is that success? Do we want to define success by media spots? I'm sure we don't. So we probably ought not put too much stock and spill too much ink over this.
7. Do most people even know what Calvinism is? Do we want a brief news blurb to be their introduction, especially given the remarkably high likelihood of misunderstanding and fear? Gotta be a better way than a #3 ranking on a list of things changing the world right now.
Is the "new Calvinism" and its spread a cause for rejoicing? I think so. But there are also some pitfalls that come with loving the applause of men.
Monday, February 02, 2009
[W]hat I saw during my travels was the stirrings of a true spiritual revival, not merely renewed interest in a particular theological system. I saw hunger for God's Word, passion to spread the gospel around the world, and zeal to pursue greater holiness. That's something Christians of any theological persuasion can support. For those who despair of this growing movement, I can only recommend that they renew their efforts to catechize young believers. It's easy to embrace Reformed theology in college when a Calvinist is the first Christian who has exposited the Word for you.
Indeed, may a God-centered revival be wrought among us by a glorious God desiring to be known and loved by His creation. May hunger for the Word stay the famine that is coming. May the gospe run rapidly around the world and the dark doldrums and slumber of spiritual wickedness be cast out. And may those holding to different commitments nonetheless hold committedly to the One True God with all the light He graciously gives!
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
"There is a second way in which you acknowledge that God is sovereign in salvation. You pray for the conversion of others. In what terms, now, do you intercede for them? Do you limit yourself to asking that God will bring them to a point where they can save themselves, independently of Him? I do not think you do. I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively, save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Saviour. You ask God to work in them everything necessary for their salvation. You would not dream of making it a point in your prayer that you are not asking God actually to bring them to faith, because you recognize that that is something He cannot do. Nothing of the sort! When you pray for unconverted people, you do so on the assumption that it is in God's power to bring them to faith. You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask. And so indeed He is: this conviction, which animates your intercessions, is God's own truth, written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. In prayer, then (and the Christian is at his sanest and wisest when he prays), you know that it is God who saves men; you know that what makes men turn to God is God's own gracious work of drawing them to Himself; and the content of your prayers is determined by this knowledge. Thus, by your practice or intercession, no less than by giving thanks for your conversion, you acknowledge and confess the sovereignty of God's grace. And so do all Christian people everywhere.
"There is a long-standing controversy in the Church as to whether God is really Lord in relation to human conduct and saving faith or not. What has been said shows us how we should regard this controversy. The situation is not what it seems to be. For it is not true that some Christians believe in divine sovereignty while others hold an opposite view. What is true is that all Christians believe in divine sovereignty, but some are not aware that they do, and mistakenly imagine and insist that they reject it. What causes this odd state of affairs? the root cause is the same as in most cases of error in the Church--the intruding of rationalistic speculations, the passion for systematic consistency, a reluctance to recognize the existence of mystery and to let God be wiser than men, and a consequent subjecting of Scripture to the supposed demands of human logic. People see that the Bible teaches man's responsibility for his actions; they do not see (man, indeed, cannot see) how this is consistent with the sovereign Lordship of God over those actions. They are not content to let the two truths live side by side, as they do in the Scriptures, but jump to the conclusion that, in order to uphold the biblical truth of human responsibility, they are bound to reject the equally biblical and equally true doctrine of divine sovereignty, and to explain away the great number of texts that teach it. The desire to over-simplify the Bible by cutting out the mysteries is natural to our perverse minds, and it is not surprising that even good men should fall victim to it. Hence this persistent and troublesome dispute. The irony of the situation, however, is that when we ask how the two sides pray, it becomes apparent that those who profess to deny God's sovereignty really believe in it just as strongly as those who affirm it.