Monday, September 12, 2011

Theoretical Calvinism, Functional Arminianism

When I read an influential book from the 50s, I found myself thinking, "He says he's a Calvinist, but he's arguing like an Arminian—as if modern strategies, social engagement, and intellectual credibility offer our best shot at persuading people to receive our message." In these two videos John MacArthur accurately identifies pretty much the exact same mindset among the YRR crowd today. Here's what he says:
How in the world could you have a true, reformed view of the doctrines of grace related to salvation, and then think that having holes in your jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt and a can of beer in your hand somehow give you access to the lost. I mean, c'mon, that's irrelevant to what you're trying to do. So because you affirm the Calvinistic doctrine of salvation, it seems to me that you can be an Arminian everywhere else you want to be. And the fear is that the power of the world's attraction is going to suck these guys in every generation after them more and more into the culture, and we're going to see a reversal of the reformed revival.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

The issue is primarily with this sentence:

"How in the world could you have a true, reformed view of the doctrines of grace related to salvation, and then think that having holes in your jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt and a can of beer in your hand somehow give you access to the lost."

I think his objection proves too much. MacArthur would no doubt agree that God uses means to reach people. After all, we don't wait for the nations to come to us before we share the Gospel, we go to them.

Here's a possible explanation for why the approach makes sense: maybe some of "the lost" don't talk to people wearing button-down shirts.

I also was curious how wearing holy jeans and an A&F shirt, having rock and roll in services, and carrying a can of beer is Arminian. If it doesn't make one Reformed, then perhaps it doesn't make one an Arminian either.

It's pretty clear that he's taking aim at Acts 29, and I don't see how any of these people "get a pass." Many have been critical of Driscoll and Darrin Patrick, often publicly. I mean, look at Dever's blurb in the Amazon page for Darrin Patrick's book on church planting, where he disavows one of Patrick's key arguments.

For the life of me I can't figure out why MacArthur is so bent on publicly denouncing these younger guys. If old John MacArthur had told young John MacArthur that he was "doing it wrong," he wouldn't have listened to him either.

Anonymous said...

I should mention that as a former member of an Acts 29 church, I really profited from the ministry in ways that I would not have at a more traditional church. They did a ton of things better than most of traditional baptist churches, such as making it okay to be a broken person in church. A lot of traditional churches encourage people to go to church and put on a happy face for the morning, but end up making it harder for people to admit failings and sins and weaknesses to each other.

Did it have problems with holiness? Oh yes. There were a lot of new converts who were still trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus in holiness. There were a lot of Christians caught in sin who were regularly being exhorted to seek out pastoral oversight and counseling.

I think Paul's approach is instructive here. When he wrote to the Corinthian church, he didn't say, "You are selling out your movement!" Rather, he reminded them of who Jesus is, and told them how they were not living up to His standards. He did it carefully and lovingly. MacArthur's approach sounds like a verdict, not an epistle. And if so, my question is, who set him up as judge?

Anonymous said...

Same guy here, I keep thinking of stuff to say.

In addition, I suspect that MacArthur and I would have the same objections to some Acts 29 methodology, and probably for the same reasons.

Here are some bullet points of difference:
* MacArthur is invested in a particular movement. He is inclined to view as outsiders those who do not join his particular strand of the movement. Thus, it becomes very important to him to be able to define who is "truly" Reformed. But who cares what is "truly" Reformed? Why not be "truly" biblical, especially about passages like 1 Cor. 9:19-23?
* MacArthur is confused about aesthetics. Why not sacrifice some of his own cultural identity so he can take that obstacle off the table? Is MacArthur really so committed to wearing collared shirts that he wouldn't put on a t-shirt if it meant that he could talk to someone about Jesus for the first time?
* MacArthur and I would agree about all sorts of things about what type of worship style honors God most and facilitates appropriate congregational worship, but it's not something to divide over. Goodness gracious, let's have some perspective.

Ben said...

Anonymous, as a rule, I don't interact with comments from people who don't identify themselves in some way. But I need to remind everyone of that occasionally, and of course you know that you made contact with me offline. So I'm going to call you "Mike" unless you prefer something else.

Ultimately, Mike, I think you can be right on all your concerns about what MacArthur is doing, how he's going about it, and why he's doing it, but he can still be right on the central point he's making and that I'm highlighting. We could go off in all sorts of directions in an attempt to unravel a pretty complex set of issues. But I want to zero in on the point he's making.

Does God use means? Absolutely. He even uses disobedience among his means. But we don't trust in the means. We don't depend on the means. We need to use good judgment and seek wisdom from God in choosing those means. But as soon as we start believing that the means produce the fruit, we've lost the plot. And that's what a lot (not all!) of the ripped jeans/rocknroll crowd says. The rest of the conversation—about whether we *should* get into the A&F fashion show—is well worth having, but it's not really what I'm getting at here.

It'd be interesting to see what a pastor who used to be a punk rocker with rainbow-colored hair would say about whether the lost will talk to people in button-down shirts. If only we knew someone like that who had the skills to write a book. Preferably a funny one . . .

Anonymous said...

Ben,

I'm sure that some out there who believe "that the means produce the fruit." However, I really don't think a lot of the ripped jeans YRR crowd believe that. I'd also argue that Carl Henry did not believe that.

I say that as one who thinks that the ripped jeans/faux military jacket/tatoo guys do often deserve to be mocked -- Not because they are Arminian but because dilettants always deserve to be mocked.

Nevertheless, in his recent opinings, MacArthur is just coming off like a grumpy old man -- he'll throw anything he can at the annoying neighborhood kids.

MacArthur is a middle-American, former football player, and he can't understand, and doesn't like, the rockers' and the artists' approach -- fine, it's a free country.

This is an old battle in the anglo world -- the athletes vs. the aesthetes. Ideally, the church should have all kinds. The aesthetes should be willing to be in covenantal community with the athletes and vice-versa. No question. I bet there are some aesthetes in MacArthur's church. Would he go to a church with an aesthete pastor?

To say that the young guy's way of dressing is Arminian is just ridiculous. The young guys could just as easily say the same of MacArthur's consistent use of suits, ties, pews, pulpits, and other middle-American, churchy cultural artifacts.

These artifacts aren't neutral, they developed to communicate to people with certain cultural assumptions. Just like the YRR cultural artifacts are doing now.

Everybody's got to wear someting. Everybody's got to have church somewhere. It doesn't have to be MacArtur's wardrobe or campus -- or else you're an Arminian.

It would be nice if the choices of what to wear and where to worship weren't pretentious or vacuous. But there's no need to lob theological scare words at people who are merely acting different or silly.

Check out some of Doug Wilson's commentary on the Biblical theme of the faithful rarely being willing to accept the weirdness of God's next move.

Keith

Alice C. Linsley said...

The word "worship" is linguistically related to the words "worthy" and "work." These words share a common root - WR. Historically worship was never meant to be comfortable. It embodied spiritual duty, some sacrifice. Wearing jeans to church, sipping designer coffee and listening to contemporary music hardly constitute work. Even if we manage to get the unsaved to the service, we give them the wrong message about what it means to besaved by grace through the Blood of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Alice,

I don't disagree that the primary concern in worship is something other than the physical comfort of the worshipper.

But, again, that truth applies to churches of MacArthur's style as much as to the hipsters.

Why doesn't MacArthur wear a clerical robe or a Geneva gown -- why does he wear the work clothes of the bourgeois instead of the work clothes of the cleric?

Why are the pews padded? Why is there a parking lot located conveniently close to both the freeway and the sanctuary? Why is there a bookstore on the "campus" of the church? Why does a church have a "campus"? On top of all that, the way most people dress in the congregation of MacArthur's chruch would have been regarded as outrageously casual by worshippers 70 years ago.

To be clear, I have no problem with any of the conveniences and comforts at MacArthur's church. I'm just saying that the current arguments leveled against the jeans and the coffee apply equally to the social norms at Grace Community as they do to the hipsters.

Keith

James Kime said...

Keith, you said, "I'm just saying that the current arguments leveled against the jeans and the coffee apply equally to the social norms at Grace Community as they do to the hipsters."

They might apply equally if the argument was the same Keith. It isn't so it doesn't.

The money quote is, "How in the world could you have a true, reformed view of the doctrines of grace related to salvation, and then think that having holes in your jeans and an Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt and a can of beer in your hand somehow give you access to the lost. I mean, c'mon, that's irrelevant to what you're trying to do."

The point could not be more obvious. He is going after those who think that having hipster clothes and a beer is what gives you access to people.

It is like Rom 12:1 says, "Be conformed to the world, to better have access to them."

He believes the clothes to be irrelevant. The YRR that he is addressing do NOT think it is irrelevant. They DO believe their clothing style is important to their mission of "reaching" people.

How uncalvinist to think that man can help God and contribute to their salvation.

I would venture a guess that MacArthur doesn't believe his clothing options are what draws people to the gospel.

Funny thing about reaching people is that it makes you wonder who Driscoll and his band of merry men are turning away by dressing like hipsters. Maybe they think their mission is to cater to and be a refugee camp for the emo and rebellious.

Anonymous said...

"Mike" here. MacArthur is right to say that it is error to think that methodology saves people, or that it can make the Spirit of God convert someone. And to be fair, there really are some in the hipster Christianity movement who believe that (which Keith pointed out before). MacArthur is wrong to imply that we shouldn't seek access to the lost. Of course access to the lost is necessary! You must preach the Gospel to them somehow!

James is right to say that becoming like the world in the name of evangelism is unbiblical, but wrong to say that wearing different clothes is the same as becoming like the world. If men's fashion suddenly became a togas-only party, would James be right to condemn those who switch to togas? If so, on what *biblical* basis?

Another problem is that James and MacArthur are equating "access to the lost" with "converting the lost." "Access to the lost" involves finding ways to speak the Gospel to them, and MacArthur is wrong to attack the A29 folks on that point. We want the offense of our evangelism to be the Gospel's message that we are sinners in need of a savior, not our clothes. Here's an example that will illustrate my point.

I, "Mike," decide that I want to evangelize the tony suburb of Winnetka, Illinois, where my hypothetical church resides. Every morning I wake up, neither shower nor shave, don't comb my long, oily, dirty, shaggy hair, and put on a stained and wrinkled t-shirt and a pair of pants that have one leg cut off with a pair of scissors. Then I go from house to house in the neighborhood next to my church, knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel with a class of people who live in gated communities so they can isolate themselves from people who tell them uncomfortable things.

If I try to evangelize that way, I am causing offense to those whom I'm seeking to reach, but I'm not offending them with the Gospel. Rather, I'm offending them by my attire and smell, two things completely irrelevant to the content of the Gospel. Does my approach make it impossible for the Sovereign, Creator God of the universe to use my efforts to convert those whom He wants to save? Of course not! God can save anyone at any time. As Ben points out, God can even use sin to convert people. Smelling bad isn't wrong, of course, nor is dressing shabbily (if you disagree, show me a prooftext), but it's still a bad idea. Why? Because I am setting up artificial and unnecessary barriers between me and my potential listeners. (In that case, of course, the neighbors are likely to call the cops before I can relay my message.)

We should be willing to give up our own cultural, ethnic, and national identity if it makes it possible to get access to the lost, even if that includes dressing differently. This is why Paul wrote 1 Cor. 9:20-23. If we have to increase or decrease church formality so the lost in our area will walk in the church doors, then I say go for it. What we don't want to do, either way, is to arrogantly presume that God will bring people to us when we create unbiblical fashion or worship norms that push people away. It's just as wrong to require casual dress at church as it is to require formal dress.

Ben, I appreciated your highlighting the issue that you wanted to extract from MacArthur's videos, even though I've just gone beyond it above. :) I agree with what you said, of course. On the other hand, there are people who are totally weirded out by ties, and won't go to any church where they are worn by a substantial portion of the congregation. The fact that God saved the other "Mike" through a guy wearing a button-down shirt doesn't really answer my concern about artificial barriers. Of course God can use an overeducated, suit-wearing senior pastor to save a punk rocker! This just throws us back onto the discussion you didn't want to start, which was about wisdom and judgment in evangelism.

Anonymous said...

James,

Gaining "access" to the lost or to different types of believers is not the same thing as, in Ben's words, "believing that the means produce the fruit."

Further, not all of those who wear jeans and drink beer (we've moved from sipping coffee to beer now I see) are doing so to gain "access". Some just happen to wear jeans and drink beer because it's a normal part of their lives which is not forbidden in Scripture -- like wearing suits and sipping sweet tea is to old timey southern baptists. (I've already stated that I believe too many of the YRR do dress/drink as dilettantes, which I find mockable, but not everyone who wears jeans and drinks coffee/beer is a dilettante).

Your appeal to Rom. 12 is just begging the question. The debate is whether jeans and coffee/beer is any more inherently "of the world" than business suits. Starting out with the assumption that jeans/beer are worldly and business suits are not does nothing to resolve the debate. After the last few years on Wall Street, I'd say that the Business Man has every bit the worldy reputation as the blue collar worker or the Rock Star.

MacArthur is a good guy. A champion of the faith over the last several decades (other than his dispensationalist quirks). However, it is ludicrous to claim that he thinks the clothes are irrelevant. He's clearly irked by the style of the young guys. Some (most?) of his irkedness is totally understandable -- and I share it.

I'm just saying that it would be better to say, "These guys are being imature, I'm praying, and working with them in the hopes that they grow up soon," instead of lobbing systematic theology scare words at them. But, again, it's a free country. If he wants to do that . . . well, ok.

As to your last paragraph, well you (and MacArthur) can't have it both ways. If a calvinist shouldn't think that clothes will attract people to the gospel, a calvinist also shouldn't think that clothes will keep people away from the gospel -- God is sovereign in both directions.

And, finally, catering to every type of sinner seemed to be Jesus' style. He worked with the business suits of his day (Tax Collectors) and also with the rebellious (Prostitutes and drunks).

Keith

James Kime said...

Mike,

"This is why Paul wrote 1 Cor. 9:20-23. If we have to increase or decrease church formality so the lost in our area will walk in the church doors, then I say go for it. What we don't want to do, either way, is to arrogantly presume that God will bring people to us when we create unbiblical fashion or worship norms that push people away. It's just as wrong to require casual dress at church as it is to require formal dress."

Several problems with this:

1. Soteriological problem:

1 Cor 9 is about restricting your freedoms/rights in order to reach others. To think that dressing a certain way GIVES you access is the problem that MacArthur is addressing. How do you know that dressing like a hipster will really give you an ear? You don't. How do you know that they wouldn't listen to the person in the suit? The mentality is properly exposed by MacArthur as antithetical to sovereign grace.

2. Ecclessiology problem:

2nd problem is the notion that the church is to exist so that the lost will want to come in. The church is when the believers come together to worship God. Unbelievers can't worship God.

James

James Kime said...

Keith,

"Your appeal to Rom. 12 is just begging the question. The debate is whether jeans and coffee/beer is any more inherently "of the world" than business suits. Starting out with the assumption that jeans/beer are worldly and business suits are not does nothing to resolve the debate. After the last few years on Wall Street, I'd say that the Business Man has every bit the worldy reputation as the blue collar worker or the Rock Star."

I don't think you understand my point.

1. My point was NOT to say anything critical of jeans. In fact, I wore a pair to church this last Sunday.

2. My point was NOT to say I find any spirituality in suits.

3. My point was to address the intent behind WHY the hipster clothes are worn. The purpose is to get an ear from the hipsters, so dress like hipsters.

In other words, they have identified this mass of people as "the world" who need to be saved. That is exactly who they are then trying to dress like so they can reach them.

To reach the goths do they dress goth? To reach the strippers do they frequent clubs? Conveniently and inconsistently, I would venture a guess that they don't. I know Driscoll has his own personal porn visions, so maybe he is exempt.

This could easily spin into a discussion that would go every which way, something I lack the time to do. But I would venture a guess that even the Driscollites manage to find a line somewhere.

Anonymous said...

"1 Cor 9 is about restricting your freedoms/rights in order to reach others."

I think what "Mike" is saying (and I agree) is that it would restrict MacArthur's (and a lot of other folk's) freedom to have to wear ripped jeans to church -- they wouldn't be comfortable. Are they willing to give up that comfort?

Going the other direction -- are any of them willing to wear clerical robes or collars (more my preference)? I'm guessing they wouldn't feel comfortable -- those things are odd to your average American evangelical preacher -- are they willing to give up the comfort?

I think I do understand your point about "accesss". I'm glad you don't see any spirituality in suits or lack of it in jeans. I just disagree that giving consideration to the culture you wish to speak into should be called Arminian.

I agree that being a dilettante is unwise, unproductive, and wrongly motivated. For example, someone who is not really a "goth" dresser putting those clothes on will be spotted as phoniness by everyone and will reach few. On the other hand, as goofy as he can be some times, I think Driscoll is dressing authentic to who he is -- and there are more (and less goofy) who are similar.

To be heard (as distinct from "get a hearing") requires consideration of communication -- what language, what social norms, what cultural trappings -- does the audience possess? To say that giving consideration to these things is Arminianism is one step (if that) removed from hyper-calvinism.

My time's up too.

Peace,

Keith

Ben said...

Keith, is aesthete's foot as bad as athlete's foot?

I think you're coming from more or less the same angle as Mike. And you can be right in pretty much all your criticism of JM—that's neither here nor there—but if he's right that the torn jeans crowd is depending on the means, his central point is right.

Put it this way: If I'm a pastor and the thought ever enters my mind that I need to dress a certain way in order to win a hearing with or reach a certain sort of people (and that goes for Brooks Brothers as much as it goes for A&F), then I'm trusting in the means. And yeah, I do think that enters guys' minds.

Ben said...

One point of clarification. Mike and Keith, I think you guys are picking up something different in the "gain access to" comment than I did. I took him to mean "gain access to" in a persuasive way, not in an "I look like them so they'll talk to me not run from me" way.

I took it that way because he's dealing with soteriology, not just how we live as Christians in relationship to world culture. But "access" introduces ambiguity, and I see where you're coming from. If he meant what you guys understand, that changes the conversation a bit.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben,

I think we're communicating well -- that alone is a good thing.

Yes, if (when) people depend on the means, they are mistaken. We agree.

I think that where the disagreement with MacArthur (and maybe you) lies is that I think there are a large number who dress the way they do -- just because that's how people dress these days. I also think there are some who think about dress/atmosphere but do not trust the means.

Nevertheless, the abstract point of "don't trust means" is true.

Keith

Ben said...

Keith, you're right, and there are many who depend on the means. It's the hipster version of goldfish-swallowing on a VBS bus.

Anonymous said...

"Mike" arises again. D.A. Carson makes my point better than I could here:

http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/article/generational_conflict_in_ministry