Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lessons from Nineveh

The sermon text from the last two weeks has been taken from Jonah chapters 2 and 3, and a couple of things really stuck out about those passages in regard to content and application today.

Firstly, if we look at verse 8 of chapter 2 it reads, “ Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy." Note how the word "Mercy" is capitalized. The emphasis here is on God and His Majesty and right to be served as the Living and True God, communicated through the use of one of His attributes. When we serve idols, as we all have a tendency to do, we are forsaking our own Mercy...the Mercy that can only be granted by a Gracious and Holy God.

Secondly, pastor pointed out the speed with which the city was converted. Look with me at the begining of Jonah chapter 3 (emphasis mine),

"Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them."

See the speed with which the Lord called His own? He had prepared a great work for Nineveh, and had tendered the soil beforehand. It did not take long for that seed to take root once it was spread by the messenger of the Lord. A city that would take three days to travel within from end to end was convicted in one by the power of the Spirit and means of word of mouth communication. A message that would doubtless seem outlandish and even laughable to a city such as Nineveh, known Scripturally for it's own wickedness and violence.

Thirdly, and finally, look with me at verses 6 through 9 (emphasis mine),
"6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?"

Note here the fact that the fast (from both food and water, no less!) was decreed by none other than the king of Nineveh as a state ordinance. He himself decreed that the people would fast, and made it lawful to do so. This begs the question of whether or not state sponsored institutions are a Biblically supported concept. I do not move to either argue for or against such a concept, I merely wonder aloud and leave the discussion to you my readers below, should you be so inclined.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why We're Here

I had a very meaningful talk with my dad the other night about something that has been troubling me for quite a while. To preface what is to come, please allow me to start by saying (don't you love how I start backpedaling before I ever say anything at all? lol) that I am soundly convinced of the validity and truth of reformed doctrine and practice concerning worship and theology, but I have noticed an interesting trend in the reformed church of late that bothers me greatly. I have noticed that we seem to be for the most part a comfortable small body of intellectuals with lots of head knowledge about Scripture and theology, who come week to week to get our fill of edification from the pastor then come back the next week ready to repeat the process. This in and of itself is not a problem so long as we remember that knowledge for its own sake saves no one, but rather what I do find troubling is the "comfortable" aspect.

This past year I have had the blessing of working with several brothers and sisters from different parts of the Kingdom than my own. This has been a wonderful experience from which I have learned a lot. One such thing that I have learned is that our co-laborers from other camps (particularly the pentecostal church) have a zeal that is simply not seen in our own body to a large extent. Let me tell you, those guys can recruit!

And that's where my dad and I's conversation comes in to play, because you see brothers and sisters I have also taken notice of how richly God seems to be blessing other parts of the Kingdom, while our little RP district remains as it always has and nobody really seems to desire or really expect that to change.

I would like to encourage us as a body to resist the temptation to adopt a "what will be, will be" outlook on evangelism despite our views on predestination and election. We have been incredibly blessed with men whom God has seen fit to raise up to shepherd us with the truth of His Word yet we do little to invite others in. If indeed we have been given so great a gift, should we not desire to share it with all that we encounter? Let us remember how short a time we have been given in which to do much work and then let us set to that work with joyful hearts as stewards of the time we have!

I would even go so far as to ask you to share an account of somebody that you have witnessed to this very week be it outspoken or subtle. Please encourege your weaker brother (me!) with news of the spread of the Gospel to a dying and thirsty world and give me hope that we have not forgotten our comission!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Wild Thing

Gen 1:28-30

"28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so."

Over the last week I have had the unique opportunity to take full advantage of the dominion that God has given man over the created world. My friends and I for spring break packed up and shipped out to a remote place known as Virgin Falls. It is a secluded little area in eastern Tennessee. We hiked back through the sticks for four miles along a path that I'm not entirely certain a llama could have negotiated successfully through some of the most breathtaking landscape I have ever had the privilege of viewing.

On the course of our journey we passed four waterfalls, but by far the last one was the best. We set up camp by the mammoth-sized cascade and hunkered down for the night. Shortly after we all went to bed a huge lightning storm struck. Now mind you, we were on top of a everything was rediculously close! Bolts of lightning flashed no more than a mile away, sometimes much much closer.

My friend Brian and I became intimately aquainted with the storm as rain gushed down from the sky in torrents and flowed freely all around and even under our tent. At one point, he slapped the floor of the tent and together we watched the water cause it to ripple out in all directions.

In the morning, soggy but otherwise unharmed, we marched up to a nearby cave and spent the rest of the day climbing around inside. For seven hours, we marveled at the expance and power of God captured in the sheer size and magnitude of the caverns. We ourselves were easily sixty feet above an underground river that determined the course of the cave, while the ceiling itself was an additional sixty feet up easily.

For the most part the floor was composed of rock, but every so often we would tread upon clay soft enough to break free and slide down the cliffs into the icy cold river. We had to be exceptionally careful and we spent a good deal of time "staging" slides for the thunderous noise that they made and the tremendously satisfying splashes.

On Monday we hiked out of the woods and headed back to Brian's house. We spent the next few days gathering some much-needed rest. On Thursday we went to Nashville and accidentally found ourselves in the midst of a storm that started dropping funnel clouds. We kept hearing reports warning us of the impending tornados, but were unable to see beyond a few feet outside of the van.

Then all at once we heard a whistling sound from outside the vehicle as the rain started to get sucked across the road very forcefully. We rounded a corner and watched as a police man traveling in the opposite direction turned his lights on and turned around to travel the wrong way back up the other side of the street. In a moment we all realized why this was so. Apearantly a few moments before a tornado had pulled apart several buildings on the street we had just turned onto. Power polls had been snapped in two, and cinder block buildings had been pulled to pieces. God had blessed us and preserved us while very clearly demonstrating His power.

Then today we gathered up Brian's paddle boat and went out to a rock quarry that has sinced turned into a very placid lake beside a horse trail and paddled around for the afternoon. Of course, this too became boring after a while, so my friend Jonathan and I scaled two of the cliff's barefooted and threw rocks down toward the paddle boats to attempt to splash those aboard.

At one point, a very large section of rock broke free of the cliff and nearly landed on Jon's bare foot, but by God's grace he was able to deflect it with his knee.

So all in all it has been a very grand week, and I have learned a lot about what it is to assume my duties as a man and conquer the creation. I really feel that that it is big part of what it is to be a man in God's kingdom, and would very much like to do things like that more often. There is so much to be learned about the kingdom of CHrist from the lessons of the wild and there is yet more to be learned about His diety from what can be seen in the benchmark that is His created order.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Biblical Importance of the Regulative Principle of Worship

Over the past few weeks, I have taken up reading the book published by my father of the title Worship from Genesis to Revelation. The book has been a real inspiration, and has opened my eyes to several very key and important issues of church doctrine that seem to have gotten lost by the wayside with the passage of time. The most striking of these concepts is just how vitally important the practice of Biblical God-centered worship is.

To start, I was reminded of the passage from Exodus on the concept of building an altar.

Exodus 20:25
"And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stone; for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it."

Now examine with me the underlying principle of this verse for a moment. All of Old Covenant worship pointed to the coming of Christ, God's chosen Lamb, and was a foreshadowing of elements pertaining to His incarnation. This verse then, clearly instructs the people of Israel to refrain from adding any artistic touch to what God has deemed fit for His worship. To paraphrase my dad: God wanted the stones that He made good to be used...not the ones that we attempted to make better.

There is no room for human creativity and artistry among the worship of God.

Along that note, I was also struck by that which my dad wrote about the Ark of the Covenant. I will quote the passage below, since he put it far better in a condensed paragraph than I would ever be able to summarize.

"The centerpiece of Israel's worship was the ark of the covenant, with two angelic beings facing inward toward an empty mercy seat. It was due to this peculiar feature of Israel's religion that the heathen nations chided them saying "where is their God?" How strange this must have looked to Israel's pagan neighbors! they had gods of wood, stone, and metal, but Israel's God was an empty throne. The truth, of course, was that Israel worshiped the One authentic God, who cannot be limited by any artist's skill, but who is transcendent over the universe which He created, displaying His wisdom, power and holiness through His mighty acts of providence while all of the gods of the nations are deaf, dumb, blind, lifeless, powerless statues."

Let that soak in for a artist, no matter how skillful, should ever be prideful enough to attempt to make an image of God the Lord. Old covenant worship was meant to point toward that God...toward that same deity whom no artist was considered worthy to enshrine, and new covenant worship is done in remembrance of the acts that that perfect God accomplished on the cross. There is not room for invention in that. No one should consider him or herself worthy to undertake that calling. Only the Lord Himself, Who provided all of the necessary instruments in his Word, including the God-breathed psalms, can do that.

Do you see the seriousness of this matter? Do you see the pride involved in trying to impliment new practices or improve upon old ones? Do you see where we have gone wrong over the centuries? And do you see what we need to do to correct our folly by the grace of God?

Look at the record of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus for a moment.

Leviticus 10:1-7
"1 Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. 2 So fire went out from the LORD and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. 3 And Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke, saying:

‘By those who come near Me
I must be regarded as holy;
And before all the people
I must be glorified.’”

So Aaron held his peace.
4 Then Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them, “Come near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.” 5 So they went near and carried them by their tunics out of the camp, as Moses had said.
6 And Moses said to Aaron, and to Elemazar and Ithamar, his sons, “Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD has kindled. 7 You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the LORD is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses."

Nadab and Abihu presumed to offer an innovation to God's worship and were utterly consumed by the wrathful fire of a holy God. This is not a matter that God regards lightly.

But there is one final and interesting fact about worship that I would like to observe from reading dad's book. I made an interesting observation about the Biblical account of Cain and Able. At the moment that Adam and Eve were confronted by God, one of the first things that occurred in the newly fallen world order was that God required that an animal's blood be shed to make skin coverings for Adam and Eve. This shedding of blood was to become the normal practice of God's people whenever a sacrifice needed be made. But when we look to Cain and Able, we see something different entirely.

Able, obeying God offered the fruit of the flock. But Cain instead attempted to offer the fruit of the ground. He tried to deviate from the proscribed worship of God and offer a bloodless alternative. Now the motives for this offering are never openly stated. Some have assumed that Cain, as a farmer rather than a shepherd, would have found it more difficult to offer a choice lamb as a sacrifice. But whatever the case, he sought to avoid the shedding of blood...he was hesitant to refrain from that reality. Was hesitant...until God rejected his offering. Then all of the sudden, the motives of Cain's heart changed, and the shedding of blood didn't matter any longer. Suddenly, it was perfectly okay to shed blood, even the blood of his own brother, because of his anger. Now the standard was gone.

Do you see how important worship is, and how easily twisted and marred it can become when men try to deviate from God's prescribed methods of performing it? Do you see how personal of an issue it is in our heart of hearts, as beings created for worship (reference the Westminster Shorter Catecism question number one)? Do you see how vitally important it is in God's eyes, when his creation disobeys its created purpose? Once again readers, do you see where we need to go with prayerful supplication?

Everything is Relative...Relatively Speaking

I had a startling epiphany on Saturday during breakfast/lunch (it was twelve p.m. but I was eating decide). Renee Descarte was famous for stating "I think, therefore I am" but I realized with horror yesterday that this is not an appropriate litmus test for existence at all. Macaroni does not think, yet I know for certain that it does indeed exist. When I eat it, it fills me...I feel it doing its job.

...I am left to wonder at the implications of this revelation. What is the proof of existence then? Feeling? Feeling in and of itself doesn't make the cut either, as something like Macaroni does not feel anything. Is it the presence of matter? Well, what about voids and black holes?

Or could it possibly be as simple as the fact that the creation attests to its Creator?

"The teleological argument for God stars from the notion that the world of experience, that is, the world we experience, has an observable purpose to it and .must therefore be the result of an ultimate designer." - R.C. Sproul Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics (pg140)

We have purpose...why? Because we were created to glorify and enjoy a holy and eternal God.

Romans 1:20-23
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things."

Monday, January 12, 2009

An Appology of the Doctrine of Calvinism

I think it is past time that I wrote this post, though perhaps late is better than never. Over the past few days, I have had opportunity to discuss the concept of Calvinism with several of my Christian friends here on campus, and have done my best to defended its oft disliked principles for those with whom I have have spoken.

This particular article is an attempt at apology for the proper form that this doctrine should take in the light of Scripture.

My friend Sam very graciously forwarded me the following article this morning after an extensive three hour long debate on the issue yesterday afternoon which left both of us refreshed and rejuvenated. I will post the article here:

Mark Driscoll’s sermons are mostly too racy to post on GodTube, the evangelical Christian “family friendly” video-posting Web site. With titles like “Biblical Oral Sex” and “Pleasuring Your Spouse,” his clips do not stand a chance against the site’s content filters. No matter: YouTube is where Driscoll, the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, would rather be. Unsuspecting sinners who type in popular keywords may suddenly find themselves face to face with a husky-voiced preacher in a black skateboarder’s jacket and skull T-shirt. An “Under 17 Requires Adult Permission” warning flashes before the video cuts to evening services at Mars Hill, where an anonymous audience member has just text-messaged a question to the screen onstage: “Pastor Mark, is masturbation a valid form of birth control?”

Driscoll doesn’t miss a beat: “I had one guy quote Ecclesiastes 9:10, which says, ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.’ ” The audience bursts out laughing. Next Pastor Mark is warning them about lust and exalting the confines of marriage, one hand jammed in his jeans pocket while the other waves his Bible. Even the skeptical viewer must admit that whatever Driscoll’s opinion of certain recreational activities, he has the coolest style and foulest mouth of any preacher you’ve ever seen.

Mark Driscoll is American evangelicalism’s bĂȘte noire. In little more than a decade, his ministry has grown from a living-room Bible study to a megachurch that draws about 7,600 visitors to seven campuses around Seattle each Sunday, and his books, blogs and podcasts have made him one of the most admired — and reviled — figures among evangelicals nationwide. Conservatives call Driscoll “the cussing pastor” and wish that he’d trade in his fashionably distressed jeans and taste for indie rock for a suit and tie and placid choral arrangements. Liberals wince at his hellfire theology and insistence that women submit to their husbands. But what is new about Driscoll is that he has resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy.

At a time when the once-vaunted unity of the religious right has eroded and the mainstream media is proclaiming an “evangelical crackup,” Driscoll represents a movement to revamp the style and substance of evangelicalism. With his taste for vintage baseball caps and omnipresence on Facebook and iTunes, Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos. At Mars Hill, members say their favorite movie isn’t “Amazing Grace” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” — it’s “Fight Club.”

Mars Hill Church is the furthest thing from a Puritan meetinghouse. This is Seattle, and Mars Hill epitomizes the city that spawned it. Headquartered in a converted marine supply store, the church is a boxy gray building near the diesel-infused din of the Ballard Bridge. In the lobby one Sunday not long ago, college kids in jeans — some sporting nose rings or kitchen-sink dye jobs — lounged on ottomans and thumbed text messages to their friends. The front desk, black and slick, looked as if it ought to offer lattes rather than Bibles and membership pamphlets. Buzz-cut and tattooed security guards mumbled into their headpieces and directed the crowd toward the auditorium, where the worship band was warming up for an hour of hymns with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”

On that Sunday, Driscoll preached for an hour and 10 minutes — nearly three times longer than most pastors. As hip as he looks, his message brooks no compromise with Seattle’s permissive culture. New members can keep their taste in music, their retro T-shirts and their intimidating facial hair, but they had better abandon their feminism, premarital sex and any “modern” interpretations of the Bible. Driscoll is adamantly not the “weepy worship dude” he associates with liberal and mainstream evangelical churches, “singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.”

The oldest of five, son of a union drywaller, Driscoll was raised Roman Catholic in a rough neighborhood on the outskirts of Seattle. In high school, he met a pretty blond pastor’s daughter named — providentially — Grace. She gave him his first Bible. He read voraciously and was born again at 19. “God talked to me,” Driscoll says. “He told me to marry Grace, preach the Bible, to plant churches and train men.” He married Grace (with whom he now has five children) and, at 25, founded Mars Hill.

God called Driscoll to preach to men — particularly young men — to save them from an American Protestantism that has emasculated Christ and driven men from church pews with praise music that sounds more like boy-band ballads crooned to Jesus than “Onward Christian Soldiers.” What bothers Driscoll — and the growing number of evangelical pastors who agree with him — is not the trope of Jesus-as-lover. After all, St. Paul tells us that the Church is the bride of Christ. What really grates is the portrayal of Jesus as a wimp, or worse. Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs. Hymns celebrate his patience and tenderness. The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.”

This reaction to the “feminization” of the church is not new. “The Lord save us,” declared the evangelist Billy Sunday in 1916, “from off-handed, flabby-cheeked . . . effeminate, ossified, three-carat Christianity.” In 1990 a group of pastors founded the Promise Keepers ministry dedicated to “igniting and uniting men” who were failing their families and abandoning the church. In recent years, mainstream megachurches — the mammoth pacesetters of American evangelicalism that package Christianity for mass consumption — have been criticized for replacing hard-edged Gospel with feminized pablum. According to Ed Stetzer, the director of LifeWay Research, a Southern Baptist religious polling organization, Mars Hill is “a reaction to the atheological, consumer-driven nature of the modern evangelical machine.”

The “modern evangelical machine” is a product of the 1970s and ’80s, when a new generation of business-savvy pastors developed strategies to reach unbelievers turned off by traditional worship and evangelization. Their approach was “seeker sensitive”: upon learning that many people didn’t go in for stained glass and steeples, these pastors made their churches look like shopping malls. Complex theology intimidated the curious, and talk of damnation alienated potential converts — so they played down doctrine in favor of upbeat, practical teachings on the Christian life.

These megachurches, like Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston and Bill Hybels’s Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, have come to symbolize American evangelicalism. By any quantitative measure they are wildly successful, and their values and methods have diffused into the evangelical bloodstream. Yet some megachurches have begun to admit what critics maintained all along: numbers are not everything. In the fall of 2007, leaders of Willow Creek sent shockwaves through the evangelical world when they announced the results of a study in which churchgoers reported feeling stagnant in their faith and frustrated with slick, program-driven pastors. “As an evangelical, I would say this tells us something,” Stetzer says. “The center is not holding.”

Mars Hill has not entirely dispensed with megachurch marketing tactics. Its success in one of the most liberal and least-churched cities in America depends on being sensitive to the body-pierced and latte-drinking seekers of Seattle. Ultimately, however, Driscoll’s theology means that his congregants’ salvation is not in his hands. It’s not in their own hands, either — this is the heart of Calvinism.

Human beings are totally corrupted by original sin and predestined for heaven or hell, no matter their earthly conduct. We all deserve eternal damnation, but God, in his inscrutable mercy, has granted the grace of salvation to an elect few. While John Calvin’s 16th-century doctrines have deep roots in Christian tradition, they strike many modern evangelicals as nonsensical and even un-Christian. If predestination is true, they argue, then there is no point in missions to the unsaved or in leading a godly life. And some babies who die in infancy — if God placed them among the reprobate — go straight to hell with the rest of the damned, to “glorify his name by their own destruction,” as Calvin wrote. Since the early 19th century, most evangelicals have preferred a theology that stresses the believer’s free decision to accept God’s grace. To be born again is a choice God wants you to make; if you so choose, Jesus will be your personal friend.

Yet Driscoll is not an isolated eccentric. Over the past two decades, preachers in places as far-flung as Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., in denominations ranging from Baptist to Pentecostal, are pushing “this new, aggressive, mission-minded Calvinism that really believes Calvinism is a transcript of the Gospel,” according to Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Baylor University. They have harnessed the Internet to recruit new believers, especially young people. Any curious seeker can find his way into a world of sermon podcasts and treatises by the Protestant Reformers and English Puritans, whose abstruse writings, though far from best-selling, are enjoying something of a renaissance. New converts stay in touch via blogs and Facebook groups with names like “John Calvin Is My Homeboy” and “Calvinism: The Group That Chooses You.”

New Calvinists are still relatively few in number, but that doesn’t bother them: being a persecuted minority proves you are among the elect. They are not “the next big thing” but a protest movement, defying an evangelical mainstream that, they believe, has gone soft on sin and has watered down the Gospel into a glorified self-help program. In part, Calvinism appeals because — like Mars Hill’s music and Driscoll’s frank sermons — the message is raw and disconcerting: seeker insensitive.

Most people who attend Mars Hill do not see themselves as theological radicals. Mark Driscoll is just “Pastor Mark,” not the New Calvinist warrior demonized on evangelical and liberal blogs. Yet while some initially come for mundane reasons — their friends attend; they like the music — the Calvinist theology is often the glue that keeps them in their seats. They call the preaching “authentic” and “true to life.” Traditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy, says the 20-year-old Brett Harris, who runs an evangelical teen blog with his twin brother, Alex. Reducing God to a projection of our own wishes trivializes divine sovereignty and fails to explain how both good and evil have a place in the divine plan. “There are plenty of comfortable people who can say, ‘God’s on my side,’ ” Harris says. “But they couldn’t turn around and say, ‘God gave me cancer.’ ”

Though they believe that God has already mapped out their lives, Calvinists have always been activists. Ye shall know the elect by their fruits, not by their passive acceptance of fate. When it comes to wrestling with life’s challenges, however, they reject the “positive thinking” ethos that Norman Vincent Peale made famous in the 1950s. That philosophy still dominates the Christian self-help market in books like “Your Best Life Now” by Joel Osteen, which promises readers that everything from a Hawaiian vacation house to a beauty-pageant crown is within their grasp if only they “develop a can-do attitude.” Marianne Esterly, a women’s counselor at Mars Hill, says she tries to help women resist the desperation that can come with forgetting that man’s chief end is to glorify God, not to obsess over earthly problems. “They worship the trauma, or the anorexia, and that’s not what they’re designed to worship,” she says. “Christian self-help doesn’t work. We can’t do anything. It’s all the work of Christ.”

Calvinism is a theology predicated on paradox: God has predestined every human being’s actions, yet we are still to blame for our sins; we are totally depraved, yet held to the impossible standard of divine law. These teachings do not jibe with Enlightenment ideas about human capacity, yet they have appealed to a wide range of modern intellectuals, especially those who stressed the dangers of human hubris in the wake of World War I.

Driscoll found his way into this tradition largely on his own. He recently earned a master’s degree through an independent-study program he arranged at a seminary in Portland, Ore. Years ago, paperback reprints of old Puritan treatises in the corner of a local bookstore piqued his interest in Reformation theology. He came to admire Martin Luther, the vulgar, beer-swilling theological rebel who sparked the Reformation. “I found him to be something of a mentor,” Driscoll says. “I didn’t have all the baggage he did. But you can see him with a quill in one hand and a drink in the other. He married a brewer and renegade nun. His story is kind of indie rock.”

Driscoll disdains the prohibitions of traditional evangelical Christianity. Taboos on alcohol, smoking, swearing and violent movies have done much to shape American Protestant culture — a culture that he has called the domain of “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists.” Moreover, the Bible tells him that to seek salvation by self-righteous clean living is to behave like a Pharisee. Unlike fundamentalists who isolate themselves, creating “a separate culture where you live in a Christian cul-de-sac,” as one spiky-haired member named Andrew Pack puts it, Mars Hillians pride themselves on friendships with non-Christians. They tend to be cultural activists who play in rock bands and care about the arts, living out a long Reformed tradition that asserts Christ’s mandate over every corner of creation.

Like many New Calvinists, Driscoll advocates traditional gender roles, called “complementarianism” in theological parlance. Men and women are “equal spiritually, and it’s a difference of functionality, not intrinsic worth,” says Danielle Blazer, a 34-year-old Mars Hill member. Women may work outside the home, but they must submit to their husbands, and they are forbidden from taking on preaching roles in the church.

“It’s only since women have been in church leadership that this backlash has come,” says the Seattle pastor Katie Ladd, a liberal Methodist who holds that declaring Jesus a “masculine dude” subverts the transformative message of the Gospel. But New Calvinists argue that traditional gender roles are true to the Bible, especially the letters of Paul. Moreover, embedded in the notion of Adam as the “federal head” of the human race is the idea of man as head of the home.

Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.

Most members, however, didn’t join Mars Hill in order to ask questions. Damon Conklin, who is 41 and runs a tattoo parlor, says he joined Mars Hill because Driscoll made his life make sense — and didn’t ask him to pretend to be someone he wasn’t. “I decided to stop smoking crack and drinking every day,” Conklin says. “I had to find some kind of God in order to do that.” He hated the churches he visited: “I would show up looking as mean as possible, with my Afro blown out, wearing a wife-beater, and then I’d say, ‘Why don’t they like me?’ Then I went to Mars Hill, and I believed Mark.”

Driscoll’s theology “changed how I view women,” Conklin says. He quit going to strip clubs and now refuses to tattoo others with his old specialty, pinup girls (though he still wears two on one arm, souvenirs from earlier, godless days). Mars Hill counts four of the city’s top tattoo artists among its members (and many of their clientele — that afternoon, Conklin was expecting a fellow church member who wanted a portrait of Christ enthroned across his back). While other churches left people like Conklin feeling alienated, Mars Hill has made them its missionaries. “Some people say, ‘You’re pretty cool and you’re a Christian, so I guess I can’t hate all of them anymore,’ ” he says. “I understand where they’re coming from.”

Mars Hill — with its conservative social teachings embedded in guitar solos and drum riffs, its megachurch presence in the heart of bohemian skepticism — thrives on paradox. Critics on the left and right alike predict that this delicate balance of opposites cannot last. Some are skeptical of a church so bent on staying perpetually “hip”: members have only recently begun to marry and have children, but surely those children will grow up, grow too cool for their cool church and rebel. Others say that Driscoll’s ego and taste for controversy will be Mars Hill’s Achilles’ heel. Lately he has made a concerted effort to tone down his language, and he insists that he has delegated much authority, but the heart of his message has not changed. Driscoll is still the one who gazes down upon Mars Hill’s seven congregations most Sundays, his sermons broadcast from the main campus to jumbo-size projection screens around the city. At one suburban campus that I visited, a huge yellow cross dominated center stage — until the projection screen unfurled and Driscoll’s face blocked the cross from view. Driscoll’s New Calvinism underscores a curious fact: the doctrine of total human depravity has always had a funny way of emboldening, rather than humbling, its adherents.

Now, to start off after doing a little research, and having the findings of the research of another forwarded to me, I have yet to find much of the "overtly offensive" materials mentioned by the author of the New York Times article. Rev. Driscol deals with very sensitive issues among his flock, and is perhaps a bit more salty than most other pastors. But as history shows, so was his alleged mentor, Martin Luther. Granted, I do not recommend this approach in administering God's Word myself, or even feel that salty language is an appropriate approach to gaining an audience, even if it is for the sake of sharing the gospel with them, but I would not be as quick to condemn all of what the man is doing for the sake of a few shortcomings.

I also want to quickly point out that John Calvin, John Knox, and Martin Luther, as amazing of theologians as they were, were only men. They were sinful just as you and I are, and their writings were not perfect nor God-breathed in the sense that Scripture was whatsoever. Those who follow their teachings, like myself, simply see Biblical principles in their writings and feel that they had certain good ideas. They are not to be put on par with canonized God-inspired authors whatsoever.

That said, I feel that the article was extremely biased against the overall doctrine of election and Calvinism from the start, and did not portray it fairly. Many people who first hear of the doctrine dismiss it as an unfair and cruel methodology to believe. After all, how could God be mean enough to condemn men to hell simply for the sake of His glory (reference paragraph 13 of the New York Times article)?

To defend this principle I would like to cite Romans 3, 8, and 9, where Paul himself deals with this matter in excessive detail.

Romans 3:23-24
"...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

Romans 8:7-8
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

Romans 9:19-24
"You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"

Notice how Paul anticipates the arguments that would be raised against this doctrinal notion. Now jump back a few verses.

Romans 9:14-16
"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”[f] So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy." (emphasis mine)

So if God is Sovereign and our chief end is to glorify Him (see the Westminster Shorter Catechism question number one), then why is it wrong of Him to determine the means by which that glory is executed upon His own creation?

These are not the only verses that deal specifically with the concept of election and predestination by name. Also reference John 17, Ephesians 1, and read carefully the first six chapters of the book of John, paying particular attention to 1:11-13, 3:16-18, 5:21, 6:36-39 and 6:44 (the word "draws in the original Greek literally translates as "dragged")

In the final paragraph of the argument, the author raises the notion that Calvinists tend to take somewhat of an elitist mentality. Unfortunately this can be true. However, it should in no way be so. Simply think about the essence of the argument for a moment. Calvinism, in a very simplified form basically says:

You cannot save yourself based upon anything that you have done or will do, and are utterly defendant upon the grace of God to save you from the wretchedness of your own sin nature.

This should in no way give the followers of this doctrine an elitist mentality whatsoever. It is simply amazing, if true, that God purposed to save any when none of them deserved it whatsoever. This concept is solidified by the following verses:

Ephesians 8:8-9
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

Romans 9:11
"(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls)," (emphasis mine)

Please take a moment to examine with me the historical background of this "protest movement", as the author put it. She is absolutely correct in labeling it such, but the history of that protest itself is nothing new. Rather, it dates back to the Reformation itself (Reformed...Reformation...see the connection?) with a man named Martin Luther. After time the new testament church became known as the Catholic church, and remained known as such throughout the middle ages. Historically, that is simply all there was in terms of Christianity. But with this centralized church government, came abuses of power, and hence Martin Luther's ninety-five thesis. So now you had Catholics and all of these other people who sided with a man named Luther. So you had Catholics and Lutherans. From Luther branched John Calvin and John Knox. These men then put forth the idea of Calvinism and all of the other various doctrines associated with the reformed faith, such as the regulative principle of worship...etc. And from Calvinism and Lutheranism splintered all of the other micro-denominations that the modern church has come to know today...including those lumped under the banner of "Evangelicalism". So really, reformed methodology has been a concept held by church fathers since the time of Paul, with a slight deviation towards works-based salvation amidst the Roman Catholic church.

So what happened historically that suddenly made everyone question the solidity of the claims of these men. Was it just harder to convert people if they knew that they themselves could do nothing to save themselves? Or did people simply grow tired of the notion of a Sovereign God Who purposes everything "according to His good pleasure"? I urge you to search the Scriptures and your own hearts to see for yourselves.

Romans 8:28-30
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bearing a Heavy Burden

(Note: I wrote this post at 2am last night, but was unable to post it until now due to an internet outage in the area.)

Matthew 11:29-30 (New King James Version)

29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I didn't understand this passage fully until now. I didn't realize what this verse meant until I stepped back and looked at life. Notice how it says my burden is easy and my yolk is light. It does not say that there is no burden at all. Rather, it says that that burden is lighter than the burden of sin.

I sit here and contemplate this revelation in the darkness of my dorm room at two in the morning and am left speechless. The burden of being a Christian alone, and living up to the testimony and ministry levels that that calling requires is heavy enough. But I sit here dazed as I add to that burden the weight of what it is to be the godly man, husband, and father that I will someday, Lord willing, be called to be. I think back on everything my father is and has been for me, and realize that I too am going to need to be that for my kids some day, and I just can't imagine it. I think of all that I will need to do to provide for my family, and all that I will need to be for my wife as her godly spouse and I nearly cannot breathe. And then I think yet more and find my mind reeling over what it will be to be a minister if that is God's calling for me, after living in a home under such a calling before and I am stunned.

How can I be all of those things with any relative standard of glory to my Lord? I cannot. I cannot be any of those things apart from His grace. I pray continually...even in these sleepless hours as I toss and turn unable to rest tonight...that God will give me the strength to live up to the challenge and enable me to be all the things that He needs me to be. Because I know all too well just how impossible it would be on my own.