Tag Archives: Bible

Theologically Thirsty? Quench it with New Calvinism…

This is a great column by Kate Shellnutt from the Houston Chronicle.

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Next generation of theologians craves historical tradition

The newest thing in Protestantism is really the oldest thing in Protestantism: Reformed theology.

Young Christians are turning to the centuries-old teachings of church fathers such as John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards — reading their work, watching pastors talk about them on YouTube and sporting their faces on sweatshirts.

ReThe nationwide renewal of Reformed theology has been going on for about a decade, and it has finally made its way to Houston. Two Reformed seminaries opened local campuses this fall, Redeemer Seminary, which recently broke off from Westminster Theological Seminary, and Reformed Theological Seminary. They are holding classes for a couple of dozen young Christians from Presbyterian, Reformed, Evangelical and Baptist churches.

“We’re offering that historical, Calvinist tradition to a generation that’s interested in it,” said the Rev. John Crimmins, the interim director of RTS’ Houston campus and the senior pastor at Christ Evangelical Presbyterian Church, where they meet.

He describes their theological stance as “winsomely Reformed,” focusing on the sinfulness of man, the grace of God and his sovereignty over all things, including salvation.

This Sunday is Reformation Day, marking 493 years since Martin Luther nailed his disputes on the door of a Catholic Church. Since then, Protestants across denominations have relied on the early thinkers of their tradition.

But after many American baby boomers distanced themselves from the theology side of religion, their children have returned to it with particular interest and passion, said Collin Hansen, author of Young, Restless, Reformed. For this generation of Christians, deep, nuanced theological teachings are a turn-on.

“There’s a certain type of tradition that to a young person looks cheesy, looks hokey,” Hansen said. “There’s another that goes back further and connects them to an older, broader church.”

That’s what Calvinism does for its young followers, who say it offers more historical depth and groundedness than America’s contemporary Christian movements.

Its “less of me, more of God” mentality and the salvation of the elect through grace makes more sense logically, spiritually and biblically, said Kyle Worley, the youth minister at the First Baptist Church of Groves and a student at Redeemer Seminary, which meets at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Houston.

Worley, 22, grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition, the son of a Baptist minister and a graduate of Dallas Baptist University.

“It views the Bible as a complete narrative. The dispensational perspective is too much of a bits-and-pieces kind of worldview, and people couldn’t find their place in that,” he said.

Plus, there’s a whole cadre of popular pastors and authors who are making Reformed doctrine compelling to young churchgoers, seminarians and pastors-to-be. John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and others present a Reformed perspective in their popular books, sermon series and web postings.

Beyond Presbyterian and Reformed churches, the Calvinist resurgence has had an effect on Baptists that can’t be ignored. At least 10 percent of pastors belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention identify as Calvinist, according to Lifeway Research. Among recent graduates of Southern Baptists seminaries, that number is up to a third.

A number of Southern Baptist leaders – most prominently Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville – consider themselves Calvinists, evidence of the range of beliefs within the Baptist tradition, where some reject Calvinism, some accept certain teachings and some don’t follow the theological debate enough to care.

“Right now, there’s a movement to be more explicitly Reformed,” said Jim Denison, the theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Denison is non-Calvinist.

He says it’s the most divisive theological topic today, but “it doesn’t really affect a lot of practice. Most folks in the pew don’t follow the issue.”

Across the country, the resurgence of Reformed theology in the 21st century initially took hold in places where being an evangelical Christian wasn’t exactly the norm, in urban hubs such as Chicago and in the Northeast, Hansen said.

In these places, Christians studied theology deeply as a way to secure and defend their faith in a “sink or swim” mentality, he said.

Driscoll started Mars Hill Church in Seattle, in the middle of the “secular Northwest.” His church-planting network, Acts 29, has fostered Reform churches across the country, and its small-but-growing presence in Houston, in part, brought Redeemer and RTS to the area.

“We have a particular interest in missions and church planting, so Acts 29 has been a strong source for students,” said Steven Vanderhill, president of Redeemer Seminary, which is headquartered in Dallas.

Redeemer was the Texas campus of the Presbyterian Westminster Theological Seminary until last year, when it split off to focus more on starting new campuses across the state. Its Houston and Austin campuses both launched this fall.

In Dallas, Matt Chandler’s Village Church, a member of the Acts 29 network and the Southern Baptist Convention, has grown to 8,000 attendants. The Austin Stone Community Church, an Acts 29 church founded by Matt Carter in 2002, has 5,900.

Houston hasn’t seen that scale of Reformed presence yet and the city’s largest Baptist churches aren’t Calvinist.

The dominance of megachurches in Houston, plus the city’s size and diversity, make it a little intimidating for new pastors and church-planters but an exciting mission field.

“Houston is different than Austin or Dallas,” said Paul Duffin, the campus director for Redeemer. “There’s a large crossroads of people of different backgrounds and faiths. It’s an excellent place for us to be.”

The Calvinist emphasis on man’s depravity and God’s grace can counter the lessons of morality and self-empowerment preached at existing congregations.

Reformed theology teaches that God secures salvation, rather than prompting Christians to do something to “get saved,” said Dru Bennett, a student at Redeemer. She grew up in the Methodist church but now attends Kaleo, a 4-year-old Reformed church plant.

Redeemer and Reformed Theological Seminary join Houston’s Baptist and evangelical schools, who view them as a necessary part of the religious landscape rather than competition. Houston may be the “city of churches,” but for its size, it’s not the city of seminaries.

Andrew Dearman, director and associate dean of Fuller Theological Seminary-Texas, called Houston “one of the most underserved theological communities in the country.”

Southwestern Baptist Seminary opened a campus in Houston in 1975, making it the city’s oldest. Denny Autrey, dean of the school, is pleased to see new seminaries open, even if they vary theologically.

“I think it shows that there is a healthy, spiritual thirst for truth in the city,” Autrey said.

The new seminaries, and their dozen students each, are eager to address those theological needs.

Crimmins, of Reformed Theological Seminary, describes their approach in Christlike terms: incarnational.

“You’re not going to class to be learning the data points, you’re going to be living them out authentically in day-to-day life,” he said, engaging the culture because “the Reformation emphasizes that God is present in the totality of life.”

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Why Christians Send

Great message from Mark Driscoll as to the importance and reason for Missions. Having recently come back from a Missions Trip I now understand how important it is to go out and reach people with the love of Jesus. As Mark Driscoll states this was the very being of Jesus’ ministry as He was sent by the Father and He in return sent His followers out. I encourage you take a couple of minutes of your day out to hear the clip below and pray that God put a heart in you to want to reach the lost. The lost in third world countries, our country, our city, our schools, our work places, and even our home.

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What It Means To Be Truly Reformed By Ray Ortlund

I believe in the sovereignty of God, the Five Points of Calvinism, the Solas of the Reformation. I believe that grace precedes faith in regeneration. Theologically, I am Reformed. Sociologically, I am simply a Christian—or at least I want to be. The tricky thing about our hearts is that they can turn even a good thing into an engine of oppression. It happens when our theological distinctives make us aloof from other Christians. That’s when, functionally, we relocate ourselves outside the gospel and inside Galatianism.

Jesus Plus

The Judaizers in Galatia did not see their distinctive—the rite of circumcision—as problematic. They could claim biblical authority for it in Genesis 17 and the Abrahamic covenant. But their distinctive functioned as an addition to the all-sufficiency of Jesus himself. Today the flash point is not circumcision. It can be Reformed theology. But no matter how well-argued our position is biblically, if it functions in our hearts as an addition to Jesus, it ends up as a form of legalistic divisiveness.

Manipulation Through Exclusion

Paul answered the theological aspects of the Galatian error with solid theology. But the “whiff test” that something was wrong in those Galatian churches was more subtle than theology alone. The problem was also sociological. “They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them” (Galatians 4:17). In other words, “The legalists want to ‘disciple’ you. But really, they’re manipulating you. By emphasizing their distinctive, they want you to feel excluded so that you will conform to them.”

It’s like chapter two of Tom Sawyer. Remember how Tom got the other boys to whitewash the fence for him? Mark Twain explained: “In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Paul saw it happening in Galatia. But the gospel makes full inclusion in the church easy to attain. It resets everyone’s status in terms of God’s grace alone. God’s grace in Christ crucified, and nothing more. He alone makes us kosher. He himself.

The Judaizers would probably have answered at this point, “We love Jesus too. But how can you be a first-rate believer, really set apart to God, without circumcision, so plainly commanded right here in the Bible? This isn’t an add-on. It’s the full-meal deal. God says so.”

Sociology Reveals Theology

Their misuse of the Bible showed up in social dysfunction. “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised. . . . They desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh” (Galatians 6:12-13).

In other words, “When Christians, whatever the label or badge or shibboleth, start pressuring you to come into line with their distinctive, you know something’s wrong. They want to enhance their own significance by your conformity to them: ‘See? We’re better. We’re superior. People are moving our way. They are becoming like us. We’re the buzz.'” What is this, but deep emotional emptiness medicating itself by relational manipulation? This is not about Christ. This is about Self. Even Peter fell into this hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14). But no matter who is involved, this is not the ministry of the gospel. Even if a biblical argument can be made for a certain position (and we all want to be biblical), the proof of what’s really happening is not in the theological argumentation but in the sociological integration.

Christ Alone

Paul had thought it through. He made a decision that the bedrock of his emotional okayness would forever lie here: “Far be it from me to boast [establish my personal significance] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15).

In other words, “Here is all I need for my deepest sense of myself: Jesus Christ crucified. His cross has deconstructed me and remade me, and I am happy. Everything else is at best secondary, possibly irrelevant, even counterproductive. Let Jesus alone stand forth in my theology, in my emotional well-being and in my relationships with other Christians!” This settledness in Paul’s heart made him a life-giving man for other people. He was a free man, setting others free (Galatians 5:1). This is the acid test of a truly Reformed ministry—that other believers need not be Reformed in order to be respected and included in our hearts.

Whatever divides us emotionally from other Bible-believing, Christ-honoring Christians is a “plus” we’re adding to the gospel. It is the Galatian impulse of self-exaltation. It can even become a club with which we bash other Christians, at least in our thoughts, to punish, to exclude and to force into line with us.

How To Be Truly Reformed

What unifies the church is the gospel. What defines the gospel is the Bible. What interprets the Bible correctly is a hermeneutic centered on Jesus Christ crucified, the all-sufficient Savior of sinners, who gives himself away on terms of radical grace to all alike. What proves that that gospel hermeneutic has captured our hearts is that we are not looking down on other believers but lifting them up, not seeing ourselves as better but grateful for their contribution to the cause, not standing aloof but embracing them freely, not wishing they would become like us but serving them in love (Galatians 5:13).

My Reformed friend, can you move among other Christian groups and really enjoy them? Do you admire them? Even if you disagree with them in some ways, do you learn from them? What is the emotional tilt of your heart—toward them or away from them?

If your Reformed theology has morphed functionally into Galatian sociology, the remedy is not to abandon your Reformed theology. The remedy is to take your Reformed theology to a deeper level. Let it reduce you to Jesus only. Let it humble you. Let this gracious doctrine make you a fun person to be around. The proof that we are Reformed will be all the wonderful Christians we discover around us who are not Reformed. Amazing people. Heroic people. Blood-bought people. People with whom we are eternally one—in Christ alone.

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Temptations & The Deceitfulness of Sin Part 2

This is a continuation from yesterday’s post, that can be found here.

Firstly, we must use discernment to recognize the deceptive subtleties of sin.

The same way Eve corrected the serpent’s interpretation of what God had really said in Genesis 3:2, we also should recognize when the truth is being distorted. Jesus himself operated under this same principle in Matthew 4:6, when Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12 as a way of tempting Jesus to jump from the highest point of the temple. It’s a lot easier to succumb to temptation when the sin we are being tempted with is clothed in religiosity.

Satan is an excellent Bible scholar but he is a terrible exegete. He can easily distort and pervert the truth of what God has said and tempt you to misapply scripture to justify your sin.

Let me give you an example of this.

A married Christian man meets another Christian woman and they form a friendship. The friendship eventually becomes an emotional attachment, and now the man is faced with the temptation of committing adultery, or even leaving his current wife for the woman. He knows what God’s Word says about divorce but he justifies the sin of divorce by claiming that the other person is also Christian, so they are, at least, not equally yoked. That makes sense, right?. Moreover, he appeals to 1 John 1:9 which says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This is deception clothed in biblical language.

Secondly, we need to have our minds saturated with God’s Word.

Jesus replied to all of Satan’s temptations by rightly quoting scripture. Jesus did not engage in any philosophical or intellectual debate with Satan. He simply pulled out the sword and hacked Satan’s temptations to pieces. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your Word in my heart so that I might not sin against thee.” What does this mean? How do you hide God’s Word in your heart? I would suggest that this is done simply by reading it, studying it, meditating on it, memorizing it, and applying it. Romans 12:2 calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The mind is renewed when you saturate yourself with the things of God—primarily His Word and prayer.

A Christian who does not feed daily on the food of scripture and spend time at the Master’s feet in prayer will more than likely fall head first into the sin he or she is being tempted with.

By Guest Blogger: Jesse Botella

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What is the Difference Between Election and Predestination?

Kevin DeYoung tackles this common misconception with biblical care.

I had someone ask me this question recently. My short answer is: in popular usage, not a lot.

The terms election and predestination are often used interchangeably, both referring to God’s gracious decree whereby he chooses some for eternal life. In Romans 8:30 Paul speaks of those whom God has predestined, called, justified, and (in the end) glorified. In 8:33 Paul references “the elect,” apparently a synonym for the predestined ones described a few verses earlier.

A sharp distinction between the two words is not warranted from Scripture, but if there is a distinction to be made, predestination is the general term for God’s sovereign ordaining, while election is the specific term for God choosing us in Christ before the foundation of the world. That is, predestination is the broader category of which election is the smaller subset. Calvin defined predestination as “God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man…Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death” (Inst. III.xxi.5). For Calvin, predestination encompasses the entire eternal decree. Election and reprobation, then, represent two different aspects of the decree. The Canons of Dort Article 1 makes the same distinctions.

This delineation is not without merit. The “elect” is always a positive designation in Scripture (e.g., Matt. 24:31; Titus 1:1), suggesting that election implies eternal life (though Rom 9:11 may be an exception to this rule). Predestination, on the other hand, can be used more broadly. Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and people of Israel, did to Jesus what God’s “plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28). Indeed, all of our days are written in God’s book before one of them comes to pass (Psalm 139:16 ). Every form of prosperity and affliction comes to us not by chance, but from God’s fatherly hand (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 27). Or as Augustine put it, “The will of God is the necessity of all things.”

Does this mean we are “predestined” to marry so-and-so or take a certain job? In one sense, looking back at God’s providential care, we can say “Yes, that’s was God’s plan for my life.” And yet this notion of divine superintendence is not meant to undercut personal initiative and responsibility. Everything happens after the counsel of God’s will (Eph. 1:11), but this is no excuse to neglect the use of means, nor is it a reason to think every decision we make is automatically pleasing to God. God’s sovereign unalterable will of decree is not be confused with his violable will of desire.

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