Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Molly Worthen of the NY Times on Mark Driscoll and Calvinism

Here's the article.
I wouldn't call myself a 5-point Calvinist, but I think I understand Calvinism well enough to explain it out of the context of this article, and I'm CalvinistIC in my thinking and theology, to be sure. Plus, I'm mostly a fan of Mark Driscoll; I liked him before I heard this sermon, now I like him a lot.

Coming from my side, this article shows a lot of naïveté about Driscoll.
Yes, he's called "the cussing pastor", but I've never heard him cuss.
Yes, he talked about Ecclesiastes 9:10 that way, and that was the grossest thing by a decent distance I've ever heard him say. You know, that's not saying much about his grossness. So what? Or maybe I'm just too edgy at the ripe old (and yet still, of course, 100% hip) age of 31...

The article gets Calvinism wrong pretty bad on the 1st page, and that's just a shame, but what should I expect from NY Times? Fair treatment? Hardly.

Take this:
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.

Yes, it's an un-American message. Bring it on. The church at large needs a lot less America and a lot more Scripture.
It's not true that your hard work and deeds will get you nowhere. They'll get you to Hell! You just aren't good enough. No one is, Driscoll and John Calvin included (gasp!). Our deeds are not good at all.

Isaiah 64:6 - For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Romans 8:6-8 - For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

The Bible knows nothing of the American "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" idea. We depend wholly on God's grace.

It gets better on page 2 - "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."
The paragraph that starts with "Human beings are totally corrupted by original sin" is half-right.
It goes wrong when it says: "(Calvinism) strike(s) 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."

-No mention so far of whether the Bible teaches it. That would be a good 1st step, though it is probably beyond the scope of this article and almost certainly beyond the reach of the writer, if not the entire NY Times staff put together. If the Bible teaches it, one must ask who cares whether "modern evangelicals" embrace it?
-*SOME* argue this about Calvinism, and it is based on a faulty set of ideas with the label "Calvinism" slapped onto it. This sentence actually describes Hyper-Calvinism. "Regular" 5-point Calvinism teaches that God uses means to accomplish His will, like missions, leading a godly life as a witness to others, sharing and explaining the Gospel, etc.
-Calvinists are divided as to the fate of people who die in infancy. The article doesn't address that at all.
-And of course, Roman Catholics and others are divided on that as well. For example, was the baby baptised, in which society and at what time was he born, etc. It seems to throw negativity on Calvinism, b/c most people think "Oh! Babies?!?! In Hell?!?!? But, they're so INNOCENT!" It's an appeal to emotion and to ignorance.
-Finally, the article whiffs on the "if God placed them among the reprobate". EVERYONE is reprobate, and 5-pt Calvinism states that God is pleased to save SOME of them, whereas He's not obligated to save any. A beginner discussion on original sin would be nice. Again, one might argue this is beyond the article's purview, but why even bring it up if you didn't want to deal with it fairly?

It says:
Facebook groups with names like “John Calvin Is My Homeboy”

Tee hee. My daughter.

being a persecuted minority proves you are among the elect.

No, it doesn't. It proves you're among a persecuted minority.
Adherence to God's Word and repentance and faith in Jesus are among the proofs that one is among the elect.

Page 3 -
Traditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy, says the 20-year-old Brett Harris...“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.’"

Amen to that.

Though they believe that God has already mapped out their lives, Calvinists have always been activists.

B/c God uses means to accomplish His plan.

we are totally depraved, yet held to the impossible standard of divine law.

We are totally depraved WHEN HELD TO THE STANDARD OF divine law. If there's no law, there's no depravity. Or commendability. There just IS.
And of course, a faithful Christian is held to the standard, and found wanting every time. God judges that Christian's sin by punishing Jesus Christ, Who willingly sacrificed Himself to take that punishment in the place of all who repent and believe.

American Protestant culture — a culture that (Driscoll) has called the domain of “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists

This earns him a lot of scorn in that same American Protestant culture. Maybe people could get over it - it's not like he wakes up with that on his lips and that's all or even close to the majority of what Driscoll talks about.

Page 4 -

“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.

Here's a chance to see just how another Seattle-based, liberal woman pastor fared in discussion on this very topic.

embedded in the notion of Adam as the “federal head” of the human race is the idea of man as head of the home.

Also embedded in there is Jesus Christ as federal head of all the redeemed. That's a far more central part of Driscoll's/Calvinism's message than this minor point about complementarianism, but again, that's a lot to ask of the NY Times.

Driscoll’s hypermasculinity

Sigh. There's your journalistic objectivity.

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

Par for the course in Calvin's time, and anachronistic judgment from this author. Perhaps the NY Times has heard of the Inquisition and the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits, the Muslim invasion of the entirety of North Africa, etc. Or maybe even Pol Pot.

When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him.

That's called church discipline. No mention is made of the New Testament teaching on this.

Critics on the left and right alike predict that this delicate balance of opposites cannot last.

Yeah, critics said that about 1st-century Christianity too. I'm just sayin'.

Driscoll’s ego

Quoth the author...
I don't see a big ego, but I'm an outsider. Just like the author.

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.

??? It does BOTH, silly. We are emboldened, not b/c we are bad, but b/c we have such a great Savior that He saved us out of our incredible wickedness, and we want others to know that freedom from the slavery of sin and self-serving desires that we have found.

Anyway, that's a pretty disappointing performance, from my vantage point, from this NY Times author, Molly Worthen. I don't feel like the article was all that fair to Driscoll, and it was pretty unfair to Calvinism. It's exactly what I would expect if someone told me, "Hey, the NY Times is going to do an article on a young Calvinist pastor".


Stacey said...

Your daughter is adorable!

It's funny how feminists balk at the idea of submission. Like you say, Jesus is the head of the church. We all are called to submit. The organization of family doesn't bother me, as men have their duty to care for the family as well. Feminism is really a sign of the desire to do your own will instead of God's. We must give up our selves to gain life.

Keep in mind that the way you think these people butchered Calvinism, the willful misunderstanding and hate they have, that's the same way Catholics feel about how you see them.

Rhology said...

Thank you!
And yes, I agree with your assessment of feminism, as does my wife. And everyone forgets that Eph 5 says that the wife is to submit to her husband, and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. That 2nd assignment is no easy task!

I really think you should take a step back before you sling that last comment around, Stacey. I know Calvinism b/c I've been exposed to it, and I think I represented it faithfully here. Ms. Worthen obviously didn't take the time to get into much more than she wanted to hear. But please tell me - where have I misrepresented RC dogma? I ask questions, sure. Where did I butcher it? Just b/c you don't agree with the conclusions I draw doesn't mean that I misrepresent it, you know.
I'm not saying I'm all that jazz or anything, but you can learn at least from this: When I said that Ms. Worthen butchered Calvinism, I backed up that statement with arguments to that effect.

It's RCC's inability to make good counterarguments that has inured me to its attraction.


steve said...

"I wouldn't call myself a 5-point Calvinist."

Well, Alan, if you find 5-point Calvinism too confining, you're welcome to become a 6-point Calvinist, or 10-point Calvinist, or 3D Chess Calvinist, or Quantum Geometrical Calvinist, or Trilaterational Calvinist, or Multilaterational Calvinist. You can add as many further dimensions or coordinates as you like.

Rhology said...

Sweet! And how many dispensations can I have? Up to 47? Seventy times seven, maybe? :-D

Stacey said...


I didn't mean to "sling" anything around, or intend any offense. I was only asking for some empathy and understanding for Catholics. In regards to you misrepresenting Catholicism, I can think of two issues off the bat from recent conversations.

On the first issue, you said:
Mark 7:1-13 is a great place to start. Jesus' example is to test tradition by the Word of God... And the fact that RC dogma does not follow Christ's example in that it does not judge everything in light of Scripture is enough to reject it.
RCC claims that Sola Scrip is no good

This is not true. Everything is judged in light of Scripture and cannot contradict it. Check the catechism. "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."

Secondly, you said:
There is no logical reason to think that an infallible interpreter can overcome the problem (as advanced by RCs, not by Protestants) that one's fallible interpretation

There is reason to think this, even if you don't agree i.e. "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matt 16:18) Catholics believe this is Christ's promise that his church will not be perverted as you put it.

Thought of a third:
So when the RCC says on the one hand "extra ecclesiam nulla salus" and on the other "Muslims, who together with us adore the one true God", etc, how exactly does that clarify John 14:6

Although we are still addressing this point, you misrepresented these statements at the beginning to mean 1) You have to be a member of the Catholic Church to be saved and 2) Muslims are somehow saved because they worship the God of Abraham. I'm interested if you still think there is a contradiction.

NAL said...

Daughter: Daddy, why is the sky blue?

Rho: Because God made it that way.
Daughter: Daddy, why didn't God make it green?

Rho: Because that would be against God's character, and He never does anything against his character.

davidbmclaughlin.com said...

nice job of pointing out the obvious flaws in the article. you have more energy than I.

I agree-exactly what you would expect from a NYT article on Calvinism.

BTW-I really like Eph 5:20.

Praying1 said...

"When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him."

Alan said: 'That's called church discipline.'

Maybe. Depends on what the so-called renegade was required to "repent" of. Honest disagreement over a drastic change in church government? That's not sin requiring "church discipline" and "shunning" is it?