The current reformed and Calvinist revival loves Spurgeon, as well they should. Itâ€™s a regular feature of the most influential new-Calvinism web sites and ministries to quote Spurgeon for and against whatever the issue of the week happens to be. Spurgeonâ€™s face is as much a brand logo of the new Calvinism as you will find.
Spurgeonâ€™s church, The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, is still in business, and that church has a prominent pastor, Dr. Peter Masters, who has a very influential voice for Calvinism across the pond. Dr. Masters isnâ€™t a major voice in America, but many of the Calvinists you like, especially of the Macarthur variety, have been to the Tabernacle and preached at Dr. Masterâ€™s conferences.
His newsletter is still The Sword and Trowel, an obvious indicator that it remains the voice of Spurgeonâ€™s kind of Christianity. It is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Peter Masters sees himself as a successor to Spurgeonâ€™s brand of particular Baptist Calvinism, and he writes and preaches with this responsibility frequently in view. Be careful. I am not saying Dr. Masters claims any of the authority of Spurgeon, but he does not run from representing his views on Biblical Calvinism as in line with the Calvinism and overall theology of Spurgeon.
So, if you will, please take a cold drink, follow the link to Dr. Masterâ€™s column on the current condition of American Calvinism, and when youâ€™re done, return to this web site for a few observations.
In short, Dr. Masters calls out the new Calvinists, from A-Z, for compromise and abandonment of true, Biblical Calvinism. Itâ€™s the biggest throwdown within the current Calvinistic family Iâ€™ve ever read, and Iâ€™m stunned that no one- particularly at Challies, Between Two Worlds or Teampyro- has picked this one up. If Iâ€™ve missed it, my sincere apologies.
Who gets tagged as a compromiser? Sheesh. Who doesnâ€™t get tagged?
Called out are……everybody. Driscoll. Piper. Mohler. People associated with Macarthur. Mahaney. T4G. Resolved.
Hereâ€™s the meat of the piece. (The â€œbookâ€ he references is Colin Hansonâ€™s Young, Restless and Reformed.)
Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthurâ€™s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, show business atmosphere created by the organisers.)
In times of disobedience the Jews of old syncretized by going to the Temple or the synagogue on the sabbath, and to idol temples on weekdays, but the new Calvinism has found a way of uniting spiritually incompatible things at the same time, in the same meeting.
C J Mahaney is a preacher highly applauded in this book. Charismatic in belief and practice, he appears to be wholly accepted by the other big names who feature at the â€˜new Calvinistâ€™ conferences, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. Evidently an extremely personable, friendly man, C J Mahaney is the founder of a group of churches blending Calvinism with charismatic ideas, and is reputed to have influenced many Calvinists to throw aside cessationist views.
It was a protÃ©gÃ© of this preacher named Joshua Harris who started the New Attitude conference for young people. We learn that when a secular rapper named Curtis Allen was converted, his new-born Christian instinct led him to give up his past life and his singing style. But Pastor Joshua Harris evidently persuaded him not to, so that he could sing for the Lord. New Calvinists do not hesitate to override the instinctual Christian conscience, counselling people to become friends of the world.
One of the mega-churches admired in the book is the six-thousand strong Mars Hill Church at Seattle, founded and pastored by Mark Driscoll, who blends emerging church ideas (that Christians should utilise worldly culture) with Calvinistic theology.
This preacher is also much admired by some reformed men in the UK, but his church has been described (by a sympathiser) as having the most ear-splitting music of any, and he has been rebuked by other preachers for the use of very â€˜edgyâ€™ language and gravely improper humour (even on television). He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, symbolising the new compromise with culture, while at the same time propounding Calvinistic teaching. So much for the embracing of Puritan doctrine divested of Puritan lifestyle and worship….
A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.
If Masters were in the states, weâ€™d say heâ€™s selling fundamentalism. The call for separationism from anything not independent Baptist and fundamental; the insistence on excluding contemporary music and anything remotely Charismatic; the concern that anyone following the Puritans be…..Puritan in style and message. All of this is recognizable as fundamentalism.
Masters is upfront with his issues: Puritan theology divested of Puritan â€œlifestyle.â€ No compromise with the world means putting a host of issues, like dress and charismatic worship, into the category of essential matters.
Does the critque of someone like Peter Masters matter to American Calvinists? Probably not very much to the Young, Restless and Reformed who are listening to Piper at Resolved right now as I am typing. But Masters is raising the issue of the shape of true reformation, an issue that the eclectic, cafeteria-style new Calvinists would like to avoid.
Itâ€™s not just the issues that separate mainstream Calvinists from people in a bunker in Wyoming. Itâ€™s the issues that separate the OPC and the PCA; the issues that differentiates Mark Driscoll from Mark Dever; the issues that cause John Macarthur and John Piper to have such radically different views of Mark Driscoll.
Masters wants to be representing the â€œold lineâ€ of English Calvinism that culminated in Spurgeon and led to a resurgence of Calvinism in Britain under Lloyd-Jones and Banner of Truth. Instead, he comes off advocating a kind of â€œCalvinistic bunker;â€ trying to avoid any contact between the Christian and the culture.
In his day, Spurgeon had a great deal in common with Mark Driscoll. His popularity was of the superstar variety. His language was often described as â€œracy,â€ with no implication of profanity, but with a good deal of shock on the part of the religious establishment. Spurgeonâ€™s preaching style took him out of the church and into public venues, where he became one of the few preachers to ever have someone in his audience trampled to death by a panicked crowd. Hyper-Calvinists and traditionalists found Spurgeon to be a dangerous innovator. Spurgeon might have identified more with Masters than with Driscoll, but the younger Spurgeon would have understood Driscoll.
In the future, donâ€™t be surprised if a significant number of the young reformed follow the interpretations and style of men like Peter Masters back into the ghetto reformed theology sometimes seems to prefer, and donâ€™t be surprised if some of todayâ€™s reformed heroes lose some of their luster in these kinds of contentions.
Reformed Christianityâ€™s uneasy relationship with fundamentalism has been going on for a long time. At times, the reformed and their fundamentalist cousins are on the same page, but other times they couldnâ€™t be more different. One doesnâ€™t have to look far to find major league reformed blogs that flirt with fundamentalism one moment, then repudiate fundamentalism the next. Is it possible to detect a bit of frustration on Mastersâ€™ part toward men who he has judged as â€œwith himâ€ at one time, but who now seem far too tolerant of the other team.
The association of some Calvinists with fundamentalist ideas about culture and separation is nothing new, but a call-out from someone as prominent as Peter Masters is. It will be interesting to see if any of the leaders of the â€œnew Calvinismâ€ respond to Mastersâ€™ case.
For myself, I appreciate Dr. Mastersâ€™ zeal for a Christian community that reflects the totality of his own theological commitments. This is one of the great strengths of fundamentalism. Unfortunately, this community is not Jesus-shaped, but shaped into the image of a history of pure reformed practice. Once again, we see the tortured quest for the true church, this time identified as those who have renounced teeshirts and loud worship bands.
Those who fall into the center or the boundaries of the â€œtruly reformedâ€ are nervous that others are engaging culture with Christ and the Gospel rather than with the ideal of a pure, separated reformation. When Christ engages culture, there is a separation- a separation of what is essential to the Gospel from what may be engaged, appreciated and used within culture. There is a quest to put the Kingdom above any form of the church in culture and history, a quest that is never completed, but which is seen in the kinds of ecumenical Calvinism many have come to appreciate.
The question of faithfulness to the Gospel, scripture and the example of a faithful church is always relevant and needed. But not every answer is equally faithful to Jesus himself. Would Jesus stand apart from Christians with bands, tee shirts and Charismatic friends, and stand with those who confess the Puritans as model Christians? I do not think so. They would not matter as much to him as they do to some advocates of relevancy, and they would not offend him like they do Dr. Masters.
A Jesus shaped spirituality has to make these choices and live with the results. Following Jesus doesnâ€™t take us into the bunker or make us so much like the world Christ cannot be seen. But our distinctiveness isnâ€™t â€œthe Puritan Lifestyle.â€ Itâ€™s the Gospel and the Christ-centered life it produces.