John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and recent host of the controversial Strange Fire Conference, predicted in an interview with Christianity.com that what he calls the “Reformed Revival” will reverse itself in the next few years. He thinks this is so, because he sees so many of the younger generation who seem to be merely adding the doctrines of sovereign grace to their otherwise non-Reformed modes of operation like contemporary worship music, drinking beer, and Arminian forms of evangelism. He says in time, their Calvinist soteriology will fall by the way side because of the contradictory positions they hold.
Watch the video first, then read my comments below:
I find it ironic that this pastor should offer this critique of other pastors when he himself has added the five points of Calvinism to a non-Reformed view of eschatology. Reformed theology, after all, is not the home of Dispensational Premillennialism. Those who embrace total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, effectual calling and perseverance of the saints but reject the Covenantal theology in which these doctrines were developed, should think twice before criticizing others for selectively embracing popular elements of Reformed theology without embracing the whole system.
I also find it amusing that he should critique Calvinists for drinking beer. The enjoyment of alcoholic beverages in moderation is historically more Reformed than otherwise.
But I am in agreement with MacArthur that the five points of Calvinism isn’t enough. I would encourage him and members of the movement which a few years ago was called the Young, Restless and Reformed to take another look at the rest of Reformed theology. If it’s so right about the sovereignty of God in election, redemption and regeneration, what makes you think it’s so wrong about eschatology, church government and the sacraments?
Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle, Washington’s Mars Hill Church, must have been very thankful for his friends in the Christian publishing world on Thanksgiving. Since he was asked some tough questions about some passages in his latest book, A Call to Resurgence, which gave insufficient citation to one of his sources, they’ve been circling the wagons around their author.
But Driscoll is no stranger to controversy. It’s plagued his ministry since the beginning. He started out a member of Emergent Village, working alongside Brian McLaren and others, trying to find new ways to do church with the “emerging” generation of postmoderns who were leaving Evangelicalism, or at least lowering the Evangelical bar even closer to the ground than it already is. To his credit, he left Emergent Village, when they left orthodox Christianity. You can read about that in “Navigating the Emerging Church Highway.”
Building a church in what he calls “the most unchurched city” in America, Seattle, Washington, Driscoll earned a reputation among his Evangelical and Calvinistic colleagues for his delivery—irreverent at best, and vulgar at worst. I personally recall Steve Camp’s ongoing blog crusade calling him out for this. But they have since buried the hatchet in the wake of an edifying debate Mark did on Nightline. I don’t know if what Camp called Driscoll’s “scatological” language has ended, but Camp’s crusade certainly did.
A year or so ago, Mark got in trouble for joining James MacDonald and others at the Elephant Room Conference to pass some soft-ball questions to T.D. Jakes about the Trinity, before declaring him an orthodox brother in Christ. Jakes was raised in the Oneness Pentecostal tradition, but now plays both sides of the Trinitarian divide with carefully crafted language which demonstrates he hasn’t repented of the anti-Trinitarianism of his youth. This No Compromise video handles the issues well.
I haven’t followed Mark Driscoll’s ministry that closely over the years. My theology and interests are on a slightly different trajectory from his, so I’m not aware of the datails in many of the scandals and stories about which I’ve heard. Liberals, however, also find much to criticize in him. Just search your favorite Left-wing site and you’re likely to find posts on his being “anti-gay,” among other things, some of which even his conservative critics would likewise critique, even if for different reasons.
A few weeks ago, when John MacArthur hosted his latest Truth Matters conference at Grace Community Church on the subject of how the charismatic movement often features false forms of worship (see my recent post on this here), the Charismatic Calvinist Mark Driscoll crashed the conference to pass out copies of A Call to Resurgence and tweeted a much-debated claim that security personnel confiscate his books, while cell-phone footage seemed to indicate otherwise, and a representative of the conference accused Driscoll of lying about the incident. See that story here.
It was therefore no surprise to me, when Mark Driscoll was as defensive as he was when he went on the Janet Mefferd Show and was asked some tough questions about several pages in A Call to Resurgence in which he borrows heavily from Dr. Peter Jones of TruthXChange.com but gives only one citation referencing him as an “example.” This is insufficient, because it does not clearly state Jones was the actual source. While I can see how Driscoll may have thought he was doing justice to Jones’ intellectual property, and neglected to cite him properly, his defensive tone and attempt to turn the tables on Mefferd by making the issue her “grumpiness” and “rudeness,” demonstrates to me that Driscoll wasn’t serious about doing what needs to be done, even though he tried to use all the right sentiments to come off as someone who is suffering for doing the right thing. If you listen to the interview, it is true that Mefferd seems to be relentless in her questioning even after he began saying he’d talk to Jones about the matter, even though she was asking if he’d go to his publisher about it. But the tone he takes with her in his own defense, and the pretentious way he attempts to frame her as a bully betrays his insincerity on this, in my opinion.
In the days that followed that interview, Driscoll’s publisher, and a prominent Reformed promoter of one of Driscoll’s past publishers attempted to follow Driscoll in turning the tables on Mefferd and make her the bad guy. But the fact that he is a source of income for them makes their objections less meaningful, if not a real conflict of interests.
Then Mefferd kept finding more examples of plagiarism in other books he’s written. She provided photographs of the texts in question so her listeners could see for themselves how he used the language of others without proper, if any documentation of his use of their intellectual property (but Mefferd removed them all yesterday, upon her apology motivated by her regret over the controversy caused by the interview, though not the inaccuracy of her criticism). The only person who can’t be persuaded that Janet Mefferd is correct in her assertions and documentation are those who want Driscoll to prevail in this controversy, or those too squeamish to stomach a trained journalist doing what journalists do when presented with obstacles in their effort to get at the truth. They get persistent.
Today’s “Bully Pulpit” episode of The Mortification of Spin, in which Dr. Carl Trueman, Rev. Todd Pruitt, and Aimee Byrd address the need for accountability for Evangelical celebrities, and hence the necessity of a free Christian press. Listen to “Structured Accountability.” I am thankful that there are real journalists like Janet Mefferd who are willing to do what they can to hold celebrities accountable for their behavior.
For the past week or so, evangelical sites have been critiquing John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference, which condemns “the Charismatic Movement” as a tradition that performs false worship practices. Featuring, in addition to himself, messages by Joni Eareckson Tada and R. C. Sproul, along with a number of lesser known associates of MacArthur, this conference anticipates the November 12 release of a book by the same title (pre-order the hardback here). One of MacArthur’s stated purposes was to “start a conversation” about the errors, extremes and dangers of the movement as a whole; judging from the reaction, I’d say he started something more akin to a cyber-riot.
But MacArthur probably isn’t surprised. He’s been the provocateur of tremendous controversy before, over the relationship between the Lordship of Christ and the freeness of God’s grace in salvation, back in the 1980′s, centering around his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. In both cases, I think it is fair to say that the intensity of the reaction is partly due to ways in which MacArthur’s message misses the mark, and opens himself up, as one Cessationist reviewer put it, to easy refutation due to his failure to draw careful distinctions between the various movements–in this case, within the Pentecostal tradition and the Charismatic Renewal, Word of Faith Movement, the Brownsville Revival, New Apostolic Reformation, and any number of other varieties which feature distinctive forms of the so-called “charismata,” or purportedly supernatural manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit.
In addition to his denial of the legitimacy of the focus on the miraculous in this multi-faceted tradition, the Strange Fire Conference also intends to focus on ways in which the movement in general promotes false forms of worship, as the conference name implies, being an allusion to the account of the deaths of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10:1-3 upon their offering of “unauthorized” (ESV), or “strange” (KJV), fire in their censers, in direct violation of God’s explicit and detailed prescription for Israelite worship.
1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.
Fair or not, MacArthur and his fellow conference speakers would all advocate worship derived solely from the clear teaching of Scripture, a distinctive of Reformed theology known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. Undoubtedly, MacArthur, et al desire to see them come into closer conformity to Scriptural modes of worship, in essence calling the movement as a whole to Reformation as the Calvinistic Reformed tradition understands it.
Now it is possible for us not only to read, watch and hear what critics of the Strange Fire Conference have to say, we can all, friend or foe, see for ourselves how the messages of the conference were presented. Audio files of the have now been released, and are available for free download, with video and transcripts of each session forth-coming. Judge for yourself whether MacArthur’s charges against so-called Continuationism (the view that New Testament sign gifts are ongoing today) and his distinctive case for Cessationism (the view that these came to an end with the close of both the Apostolic era and the canon of Scripture–with which I agree) are legitimate, and where he misses the mark.
Visit Grace To You’s blog post, “John MacArthur on Making an Informed Response to Strange Fire” to watch a short introductory video and to download the audio files for each session of the conference which has set the evangelical blogosphere ablaze, in my view, both rightly and wrongly.
Westminster Confession of Faith 1.7. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.
Westminster Confession of Faith 5.3. God, in his ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at his pleasure.
Westminster Confession of Faith 18.3. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
If everything in the Christian life is “dynamic,” “epic,” “impactful,” “powerful,” and “extraordinary,” then the extraordinary becomes the expected norm, rather than the exception. It’s easy to see that with such high spiritual expectations, disillusionment is sure to follow. For this reason, I’d like to direct you to a series of episodes of the White Horse Inn called “Ordinary.” Along with concepts like “sovereignty,” and “predestination,” one of the unsung distinctive doctrines of Reformed theology is the way that God ordinarily works through ordinary means in our lives by His Word and sacraments. He reveals himself and his work of redemption to us in the Scriptures, grants to his chosen regeneration, faith, justification, repentance, sanctification, communion with him in grace and assurance. That he ordinarily does so through the “ordinary means of grace” (the Word read and preached, the sacraments and prayer), means that, indeed, in extraordinary circumstances, he is free to work by extraordinary means. The extraordinary nature of these means should be our first hint that this will not be what Christians should expect every Sunday during their so-called “worship experience.” Take some time to listen and be reformed to a liberatingly ordinary Christian spirituality.
Yesterday I tweeted a request to Reformed bloggers in the know to post on the Reformed side of American medical icon, the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, who died Monday at the age of 96. Dr. Koop’s medical and public service bonafides are a matter of public record. One quick and easy summary may of course be accessed, where else? Wikipedia! Here also is a press release from HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sabelius, detailing his legacy from the point of view of the federal government. But in addition to his service to the City of Man, Dr. C. Everett Koop was an accomplished lay leader in the City of God, serving as a Presbyterian church elder, and until the day of his death, a board member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE), the para-church organization which was so instrumental in introducing me to and cultivating in me the Reformed faith and theology.
Incidentally, tomorrow afternoon, my pastor and I depart for ACE’s Texas Hill Country Bible Conference in Boerne, Texas. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of tribute they put together for him there. For now, though, the ACE website offers a “Koop Classic”: Life, Bioethics and Christianity (2010, ACE).
But in answer to my (“all about me”–apologies to Dr. D.G. Hart request, two of my favorite Reformed bloggers has indeed posted remembrances of Dr. C. Everett Koop: Drs. Michael Horton and Kim Riddlebarger. You may read Dr. Horton’s at the White Horse Inn blog, and Dr. Riddlebarger’s post at the Riddleblog. Horton gives a nice summary of meeting Dr. Koop and his service to his church, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, featuring the audio of a 2001 interview and a link to Dr. Koop’s contribution (“Faith-Healing and the Sovereignty of God”) to Horton’s out of print 1990 expose of televangelism, The Agony of Deceit–download it as soon as possible! Riddlebarger adds an amusing anecdote of Dr. Koop’s sobering reaction to his sense of humor. Both posts are great reads.
Be sure to peruse the other links I tweeted yesterday regarding the late Dr. C. Everett Koop from Christianity Today and Banner of Truth magazines and the Gospel Coalition blog featuring both compliment and criticism. Finally, in search of an image of Dr. Koop inside the building of Tenth Pres, I ran across a video of his 2010 marriage to Cora Hogue (pray comfort for her in her loss), officiated by former pastor, Phil Ryken, who is now the President of Wheaton College, whose sermons are still featured on ACE’s broadcast, Every Last Word. For those who are interested in viewing this heartwarming moment, the service begins about 30 minutes into the video, after the beautiful music of Westminster Brass.