Reformed Theology Coming to an SBC Church Near You!

On January 11, 2008, the Baptist Press posted a report by Michael Chute, entitled, Evangelists lament Calvinism, SBC trends.” In the article, a LifeWay Research  (see “Calvinism studies” in the preceding link) study of SBC churches, pastors and seminary graduates indicated the following statistics: 

  • “. . . ten percent of Southern Baptist pastors (currently) identify themselves as Calvinists.”
  • “. . . 29 percent of recent SBC seminary graduates espoused Calvinist doctrine.” 
  • “. . . a minority of SBC churches are led by Calvinist-leaning pastors, but the number is increasing”
  • “. . . Calvinist-led churches are generally smaller in worship attendance and baptisms than non-Calvinist churches.”
  • “. . . baptism rates between Calvinist and non-Calvinist led churches are virtually identical.”
  • “. . . Calvinistic recent graduates report that they conduct personal evangelism at a slightly higher rate than their non-Calvinistic peers.”
  • A PDF file of the full report is posted here.

 Also of interest in the report, Chute quoted Hal Poe, Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, who paints a picture for us of the recent historical trends within the SBC which have led to the current circumstances. “In a broad sense, it’s happening on Christian college campuses too, as Calvinism appeals to young people who are wanting a more intellectual approach to Christianity . . . . Southern Baptists neglected serious Christian education from the early 1960’s, and that’s when all the trouble started. From discipleship training we went to the amorphous youth groups, whose only real good was to keep kids happy until they graduated from high school and graduated from church. Now, you have a generation [of college students] who have come along and want something deeper and they have latched onto Calvinism.” 

Poe goes on to site “John Piper, a Reformed Baptist theologian, preacher and author who currently serves as pastor for preaching and vision of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. . . . He’s effective because he’s so passionate. . . He holds huge, stadium-type events that are rip-roaring. There’s nobody else doing anything like this so he becomes [Calvinism’s] expositor. But John Piper’s version of Calvinism is not something John Calvin would espouse, or even that Charles Spurgeon [British reformed Baptist preacher] would espouse.”

It is true that Piper is cut from a different cloth from the great Reformer and the nineteenth-century Puritan “Prince of Preachers.” First of all, it must be noted that Piper is not a Southern Baptist, but a member of the Northern Baptist Convention (Bethlehem Baptist member and Reformed Baptist blogger, Bob Hayton, at Fundamentally Reformed, can correct me on that detail if I’m wrong), where he has been a leader in that denomination’s struggle with the modern heresy known as Open Theism. From my reading of his sermons, Piper may be categorized as a “charismatic Calvinist,” which is more of a doctrinal position than a weekly exhibition of extreme emotionalism in worship, or attempts at exercising the miraculous spiritual gifts of tongues, healing, prophecy, etc., images usually evoked by the term charismatic–though the appeal to emotion seems to be greater in his preaching than in typical Reformed preaching. His experiential emphasis on “desiring God” is in part an application of the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which states, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” But this seems to be little more than a perhaps pietistic reaction against the reputed cold-orthodoxy of many Reformed worship practices.

Another way Calvin would disagree with Piper is in his application of Baptistic principles to Reformed theology, of which, of course, Spurgeon is also guilty. But in this, Piper and Spurgeon are informed by the historic early Baptist confession of faith commonly known as the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, which is in large part, a condensing of the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith, with revisions on the statements regarding Baptism. On the other hand, Piper also is embracing the abberant postmodern “emerging” churches–at least the one’s that at least maintain Reformed theology, while seemingly applying seeker-sensitive pragmatic retooling of worship styles to appeal to an “emerging church” demographic. Thus, Piper’s twenty-first century expression of Calvinism does seem to differ from that of Calvin and Spurgeon; however, this Reformed blogger is grateful that such a figure has been able to influence so many Southern Baptists for the doctrines of grace, the biblical emphasis on the sovereignty of God, and his supremacy in all things, including the secular, sacred and even sinful activity of all men.

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12 responses

  1. John,

    I too have not been making the rounds to my favorite blogs as much as I’d like of late. (A 3 month old which brings our total kid tally to 4 is a big reason!)

    Anyways, first off, our church (Piper’s church) is a member of the Baptist General Conference which is not the same thing as the Northern Baptist Convention. It’s not quite as bad. And while some of the BGC have embraced open theism, Piper and a large company within the BGC are fighting against it.

    Now about him being different than Spurgeon or Calvin, the author may be intimating that Piper’s position on regeneration preceding faith is novel. Some non-Calvinists think this way. But in truth Spurgeon believed that doctrine, as did the 1833 New Hampshire Baptists who created another famous Baptist Confession of faith.

    Piper does hold to double predestination, but he doesn’t major on that in his preaching, that I’ve heard.

    Spurgeon has some emotional qualities about him, too. And he’s been known to make statements that would fit into a broadly charismatic viewpoint. (Search Adrian Warnock’s blog, and I’m sure you’d find something.)

    Now I take exception to your claim that Piper endorses or approves the “emerging church”. He doesn’t at all. Now Mark Driscoll is not emerging church. He used to be, but now he isn’t. He is very orthodox doctrinally, the only difference is his music and intentional design to attract a younger hip crowd. He preaches for 90 minutes at a time, I don’t know if that’s emergent!

    I guess it depends on how one defines emergent. Last year’s DG Conference (Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World) actually was combating the main gist of the emerging movement, even though he had Driscoll. Driscoll combats the emerging movement too.

    Anyways, good post. And I like the new look for your blog!

    Later, bro.

    Bob

  2. I intended to convey the fact that what is considered “emergent” when it comes to Driscoll and the like (other Reformed “emergent-like” Christians), is little more than the packaging in an attempt to provide post-modern believers an orthodox, evangelical and Reformed alternative. I may not have done a good job of communicating that idea, though. I agree with Piper’s and your assessment of Driscoll in particular, but don’t endorse the morphing of corporate worship in the name of outreach to emergents, hard practical questions notwithstanding.

    Thanks for the clarification on Piper’s denomination, too.

    So, what makes you think the scholar was referring to the order of salvation in distinguishing between Piper and Calvin and Spurgeon? I can’t help but conclude it’s first of all his Baptistic distinctives (when it comes to Calvin), his charismatic theology, his emphasis on “desiring God” and all that entails (about which I find no serious divergence), and oh yeah! I forgot about his New Covenant theology! That’s definitely a distinct move away from historic Reformed, covenantal theology. But that’s a whole ‘nuther post.

    Welcome to my club! The club where you blame your number of kids on your inability to do all you’d otherwise like to do. I’ve got five kids myself. I also love quoting Bill Cosby on why I have five kids. Maybe you saw his concert called “Himself.” He says, “The reason I have five children is because I DO NOT want SIX!” That’s us in a nutshell.

    Glad you like the new look. Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out how to put that silly picture of Superman with Calvin’s head on it into the header at the top of my blog, but gave up. Last night I discovered this template, Journalist, and realized that since my motif is an imaginary super hero, he needs a newspaper associated with him, the way Superman and Spiderman do. Except, I guess in the case of Captain Headknowledge, the paper is the Daily Evangel. Like it? I think it reminds us of the need to preach the gospel to ourselves and our families every day. It just came to me, and I don’t know that it can be perfected. It’s a gift–I don’t talk about it much. . .

  3. Oh yeah, I thought the new format kind of gives it that Sword of the Lord vibe, too. But perhaps not everyone will get that. Unless of course they look up the website.

  4. Good points Cap’n.
    The only thing is I may differ w/ Bob. I say maybe. I listen to Driscoll almost every day on my ipod. He will preach for over an hour and that is not very emergent to be sure…he is a calvinist and that is not very emergent…but he will cuss…while preaching…that is either “edgy or emergent”. He loves to plant “video churches”,very seeker oriented or emergent. I know your Church does that too Bob… (I emailed you some questions on that). I like Driscoll, but sometimes he makes me nuts…(brags about his edgy t-shirt w/ Jesus on it, cusses) seems arrogant. I think all to be culturally relevant.

    Gage Browning
    Post Tenebras Lux

  5. Exactly. And I criticize such as that because I believe that when you change the method, you inevitably change the message. Even if it is gradual. I haven’t listened to his sermons, but I have heard him interviewed favorably on the White Horse Inn and then I’ve heard how others have written about his ministry on the internet, and this is the conclusion to which I’ve come about it. I’m glad Mars Hill is theologically Reformed, but, as you know, and constantly remind me yourself, that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement.

  6. I’ve been missing, because your blog design change, got my blog-design itch going!

    Sorry Gage about not responding to the email. When I wake up later today (tonight), I plan on responding.

    I’ve heard from some that the cussing isn’t as prevalent as some make it out to be. But I agree Driscoll goes too far and bends his services too much to be relevant. That’s my humble opinion anyway.

    John, I’ve heard from some Baptist non-Calvinists that Spurgeon didn’t believe in regeneration preceeding faith. I’ve also read somewhere else, i think, a popular level article asserting that regeneration preceeding faith is a modern Calvinist innovation.

    Also the very tenor of the charge (especially understanding the background its coming from — non-Calvinistic [read biased against Calvinism] SBC folk), makes it sound like Piper is more hard and fast, and a bigger diehard than Calvin and Spurgeon were. That’s my impression anyway. Perhaps if I read the context of the comments more carefully, or read other things by the same guy, I’d be informed enough to be firm in my opinion. Anyways I think it is a possibility. Also, non-Calvinists aren’t so averse to the desiring God thing, its more diehard Calvinists or staunch fundamentalists. Just a thought.

    Got to run.

    Later,

    Bob

  7. Oh, and if you wanted, you could just add your superCalvin pic as a picture at the top of your headbar.

    {img src=”” width=”200″ alt=””}

    Replace { with and add the url to the picture (go to “browse all” and click on the picture, click edit, then you’ll see the address for the picture. You can adjust the picture bigger or smaller by making 200 bigger or smaller (150 or 300, etc.)

    Hope that helps.

  8. sorry, I mean sidebar. In a text widget.

  9. The only part of the actual Calvinist theology that Piper is weak on, I think, is the New Covenant theology aspect. Classical Calvinism is “Covenantal.” I’m noticing that some Reformed Baptists (by no means all) are utilizing this modified form of “covenantalism”. I remember reading a sermon of Piper’s in which he described the details of it. Instead of attempting to summarize it myself, if you’re not aware of this, then I’d recommend you see what he says about it himself.

    My larger point was meant to be (maybe I didn’t put it in those terms) that there are some “features” Piper has added that makes his overall ministry look different than the typical or traditional (stereotypical?) Calvinist ministry. Which means I know Piper hasn’t subtracted much from the theology (except of course for what I said in the last paragraph). Also, my pointing out these features is not necessarily a criticism of those features. It’s just an observation. I would only “criticize” him for the Baptistic views (with all due respect) and the New Covenant views and the propping of Driscoll. And I know our buddy, Gage, is gonna consume a little cyber ink on Piper’s satellite preaching. But he’s gotta get back from his business trip to Canada before he can do that. Let’s be watching for it next week.

    Now, on the order of salvation. If historic Calvinism didn’t teach that regeneration precedes faith, then why would the Arminians have insisted on innovating a doctrine called “prevenient grace”? Because of Ephesians 2:8-9, Arminians do admit that sinners can’t believe until the Holy Spirit grants them the grace to believe, they just stop short of calling that enabling, “prevenient” grace “regeneration.” Again I ask, if the Calvinists weren’t teaching that regeneration precedes faith, then why would the Arminians have to have come up with a rival term and concept? To what would they have been responding, if historic Calvinism taught that faith preceded regeneration?

    Thanks for the tip on the sidebar. But I thought I could only utilize two sidebars, which, of course, you can see that I am. I hadn’t been able to open a third text widget.

  10. John,

    Re: the sidebar, take the one widget at the top of your sidebar and just add the pictures into it and then have the stuff you have further down, underneath it.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that there is a drop down menu under the widgets area toward the very bottom. You should be able to opt for up to 9 different text widgets. After selecting the drop down menu, then the new widgets show up in that area below your sidebar where you can drag widgets from.

    Hope that helps.

    Re: order salutis. I agree. In fact the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of 1833 attests a regeneration prior to faith view. This doesn’t stop rabid IFBx types from disputing this, since they want Spurgeon/Edwards to be different than this modern day heresy.

    Re: Piper. I haven’t heard him talk about new covenant theology much, except for how the new covenant influences Baptism. Personally I am a CT guy myself, at least for the time being. I haven’t really explored NCT, but I’m no dispy. You may be right that the guy was trying to distance Piper from Calvin on the basis of some of his other, perhaps you could say, more permissive or modern views. As far as Calvinism goes, however, he’s quite close to Calvin (minus CT I guess, although CT wasn’t really formulated yet in Calvin’s day). I totally understand people disagreeing with his third wave emphasis and not understanding his Christian hedonism views. I just wondered if there wasn’t another angle on it all. Basically they are just trying to smear him a little to say, if you like Calvin, well he isn’t exactly like Piper. So stay away from Piper!

    Anyways, enough about that. I have to respond to Gage’s email, to help give him some fodder for use in that post. I get to defend my church’s practice. I think I did this at World from my Window, so I have to find the link.

    Blessings, bro.

    Bob

  11. A good blog Captain. I for one would like to hear an elaboration by you on Open Theism. I think your opinions would be interesting.

    The Watcher

  12. I really haven’t read that much about Open Theism, but it is basically a case of extreme Arminianism. True Arminianism isn’t a heresy, but Open Theism is. In an effort to defend the idea of the moral responsibility of man, it not only denies that God hasn’t ordained the actions we may make in the future, but goes so far as to say that because it’s in the future, it’s not a thing yet, so it can’t be known, not even by God.This is not the God of the Bible. Make sure you read the article about it to which I linked in the post.

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