Thursday, August 23, 2012

Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing The Continuing Reformation Of The Church by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

Below is an introduction to our book, the ordering details are hyper-linked below as well. If you do not want to purchase from the publisher (which I would, it's cheaper), then you can always place your order through I am continuing to blog, and continuing to discuss issues surrounding Evangelical Calvinism; but not here, I am blogging at my old wordpress 'EC' blog The Evangelical Calvinist (I am sorry about the confusion, but I vow to you all that I am done moving and that I will be forever tied to my wordpress 'EC' blog until the day I quit blogging, I give you my word ... here's the address for that blog sorry for the whip-lash you must be experiencing by now. 

 The book is finally here! This represents the collaboration of many contributors spanning from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States; an international effort. Myk Habets originally conceived of this project, and graciously asked me to join him in the editing and authoring of this most awesome volume (if I must say so myself)! Our book presents a mood of Calvinism, that at least for Myk and I can be said to be an mood given birth After Torrance (and then After Calvin, After Barth, so an so forth); and a mood that we hope is catching. The hope is, at least/at most, that Jesus Christ the Son of the Father by the Holy Spirit will be magnified through the effort exerted through the process of birthing this book. He will be most magnified if the readers of our book are pointed beyond themselves to the eternal Word, Jesus Christ! Our book, is not primarily a polemical work against classic Calvinism; but it does implicitly (and at points explicitly) offer a critique of the usual mode of Calvinism, and it does so constructively, by simply reminding her cousin that she indeed has a cousin. Evangelical Calvinism is rooted, methodologically, in Trinitarian Theology through a so called 'Christ-conditioned' shape. And so, by definition, EC emphasizes God as Love in life, and Grace in action. Unlike its classic cousin, EC believes the logic of grace that undergirds her articulation require that ALL humanity is represented (universally) in Jesus Christ; thus we limit the atonement to Jesus' humanity for us (the us being all of humanity who have ever lived). It is this that we think makes 'our' Calvinism, Evangelical or 'Good News'. If you are interested in reading more about Evangelical Calvinism, and how it is fleshed out through the personalities of Myk, myself and our authors; then you need to pick our just released book up and read it ... you will not be disappointed. Here are the ordering details:

Evangelical Calvinism 
Essays  Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.
Edited by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

(click on the above title to go to the publishers website to order)

I wanted to especially, and publically, thank Myk Habets for his leadership on this project; and for allowing me to be a part of it, what a blessing! I also wanted to publically thank each and everyone of our authors, and endorsers; you all made this book what it is.

[I also want to say thank you to all of you who have pressed me here at the blog, your challenges and encouragement have all made their way into the book ;-) ... so thank you all.]

Here is the blurb from the back jacket of the book, and then the table of contents:

Blurb: In this exciting volume new and emerging voices join senior Reformed scholars in presenting a coherent and impassioned articulation of Calvinism for today’s world. Evangelical Calvinism represents a mood within current Reformed theology. The various contributors are in different ways articulating that mood, of which their very diversity is a significant element. In attempting to outline features of an Evangelical Calvinism a number of the contributors compare and contrast this approach with that of the Federal Calvinism that is currently dominant in North American Reformed theology, challenging the assumption that Federal Calvinism is the only possible expression of orthodox Reformed theology. This book does not, however, represent the arrival of a “new-Calvinism” or even a “neo-Calvinism,” if by those terms are meant a novel reading of the Reformed faith. An Evangelical Calvinism highlights a Calvinistic tradition that has developed particularly within Scotland, but is not unique to the Scots. The editors have picked up the baton passed on by John Calvin, Karl Barth, Thomas Torrance, and others, in order to offer the family of Reformed theologies a reinvigorated theological and spiritual ethos. This volume promises to set the agenda for Reformed-Calvinist discussion for some time to come.

Table of Contents:

Prologue: Union in Christ: A Declaration for the Church. Andrew Purves and Mark Achtemeier


1: Theologia Reformata et Semper Reformanda. Towards a Definition of Evangelical Calvinism. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

Part 1: Prolegomena – Historical Theology

2: The Phylogeny of Calvin’s Progeny: A Prolusion. Charles Partee

3: The Depth Dimension of Scripture: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Calvinism. Adam Nigh

4: Analogia Fidei or Analogia Entis: Either Through Christ or Through Nature. Bobby Grow

5: The Christology of Vicarious Agency in the Scots Confession According to Karl Barth. Andrew Purves

Part 2: Systematic Theology

6: Pietas, Religio, and the God Who Is. Gannon Murphy

7: “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ:” Christologically Conditioned Election. Myk Habets

8: A Way Forward on the Question of the Transmission of Original Sin. Marcus Johnson

9: “The Highest Degree of Importance”: Union with Christ and Soteriology. Marcus Johnson

10: “Tha mi a’ toirt fainear dur gearan:” J. McLeod Campbell and P.T. Forsyth on the Extent of Christ’s Vicarious Ministry. Jason Goroncy

11: “Suffer the little children to come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Infant Salvation and the Destiny of the Severely Mentally Disabled. Myk Habets

Part 3: Applied Theology

12: Living as God’s Children: Calvin’s Institutes as Primer for Spiritual Formation. Julie Canlis

13: Idolaters at Providential Prayer: Calvin’s Praying Through the Divine Governance. John C McDowell

14: Worshiping like a Calvinist: Cruciform Existence. Scott Kirkland

Part 4

15: Theses on a Theme. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

Epilogue: Post Reformation Lament. Myk Habets



Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I am done with blogging ...

I am done with blogging, for at least awhile. I am tired of it, for many reasons. So I just wanted to let any of my readers know about what is going on with my blog. I am not deleting the blog, but I am putting it into "private" mode, so it will effectively be gone. Blessings to all of you, and don't be surprised if you see me back blogging again some day; at the moment I am totally burnt out. I plan on shifting my writing from the blog, and towards putting together papers that I hope to submit to theological journals etc. And you never know, there could be another EC book some day; anything is possible. Peace, Bobby.

PS. But if you still would like to read some of my thoughts then you can do so HERE.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Gospel Coalition, Resurgence, RE: Train: And The American Evangelical Captivity to Five Point Calvinist Theology

The Gospel Coalition is gaining an amazing reach into the Evangelical churches in North America (if not even internationally at some levels). Indeed, even my own local church has been and is being influenced by the reach of TGC (and the "denomination" our church is in [Calvary Chapel] is usually known to be more Arminian in orientation [if indeed Calvary Chapel's have a articulated theological orientation---which in fact they really don't!]). They offer and sponsor video series for church ministries (like on how to be missional or kingdom builders in urban settings), conferences for pastors (and lay folk alike), and now they are (at the least) associated with a "training" program offered to pastors that is said to be at the level of a 'Masters' level course load.

I understand that most pastors who associate themselves with TGC are certainly well intentioned guys who love Jesus, and want to be up on all of the cutting edge (what is perceived as such) ministry tools and trajectories that they can avail themselves of; I understand that! But from my perspective there is something more insidious going on here (from TGC's side); the fact is, is that what counts as the Gospel for The Gospel Coalition is this:

The Plan of God We believe that from all eternity God determined in grace to save a great multitude of guilty sinners from every tribe and language and people and nation, and to this end foreknew them and chose them. We believe that God justifies and sanctifies those who by grace have faith in Jesus, and that he will one day glorify them—all to the praise of his glorious grace. In love God commands and implores all people to repent and believe, having set his saving love on those he has chosen and having ordained Christ to be their Redeemer. [taken from The Gospel Coalition's 'Confessional Statement', point 5]

And this:

The Kingdom of God We believe that those who have been saved by the grace of God through union with Christ by faith and through regeneration by the Holy Spirit enter the kingdom of God and delight in the blessings of the new covenant: the forgiveness of sins, the inward transformation that awakens a desire to glorify, trust, and obey God, and the prospect of the glory yet to be revealed. Good works constitute indispensable evidence of saving grace.... [taken from The Gospel Coalition's 'Confessional Statement', point 10]

So what counts as the 'Gospel' for The Gospel Coalition is the same theology that funds the so called 5 points of Calvinism---indeed, it is The 5 POINTS of Calvinism, straight up. The reason that I said, earlier, that I think this is insidious (that is, TGC's mode of operation by framing themselves as simple purveyors of the Gospel, is that they speak and move, often, in cloaked ways; and intentionally so!), is because as I just noted, parenthetically, TGC knows that the theology of 5 point Calvinism in its naked, explicit form is offensive to many Evangelical Christians. So they have crafted a method, language, and a cultural posture that will make what they think counts as the 'Gospel' more acceptable to the masses of Evangelical leadership who finds their many resources (for pastors) appealing.

I just became aware of another movement that TGC is associated with (directly or indirectly, I am not sure), and it is actually another movement that is sponsoring a training program of which adopts TGC's 'Confessional Statement' as their own. The other movement that is directly associated with TGC is Mark Driscoll's Resurgence ministry which is seeking to instill his idiosyncratic mode of doing 'missional' ministry into the body lives of local churches all across America. I have just become aware of this, because one of the pastors from my own church (I just noticed on a social feed) is attending this training program put on by Driscoll's Mars Hill church in Seattle, WA; the training program is called RE: Train. Here is how RE: Train describes what they are about:

The Resurgence Training Center (Re:Train) is a one-year, intensive, cohort-based program designed to train leaders practically and theologically. The program is designed after popular “executive style” graduate programs to serve students currently serving in full-time ministry or for those who do not have time for semester-long courses. Students meet physically eight times per academic year; six weekend courses at regional hubs and two one-week courses at Mars Hill Church in Ballard. [taken from here]

And they say of their doctrinal commitments, this:

The administrators and teachers of Re:Train gladly embrace the Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement, and are members of Mars Hill Church or other like-minded congregations and institutions. All professors are chosen because of their exceptional knowledge in their respective field of study and their ability to teach in a useful and practical way. All professors will be world-class academicians in well-respected institutions or pastors who have the appropriate teaching credentials and ministry experience. [from here]

No matter how "good" the intentions of these folk are (and I mean at 'Resurgence' and The Gospel Coalition), they are covertly (in my estimation) conditioning an uncritical Evangelical church in America to believe that the theology that funds the 5 points of Calvinism is actually the Gospel! So all in all, this cultural Christian movement is dangerous; because they know exactly what they are doing, and they are doing so in an under-handed way. Although, I would imagine that many of the attendees at RE: Train know full well what is going on theologically behind RE: Train (and TGC), and they are fine with it.

All of the above said; I am more than concerned about how many pastors in the American Evangelical church are being taken captive, and in many instances, uncritically, by the theology of The Gospel Coalition and now RE: Train. It is not possible to attend an institution like this (which is explicitly and unabashedly committed to American 5 point Calvinist theology), weed out the bad, and end up with some sort of ecclesiastical (churchly) good. If the root is bad ... well, you know the rest. I am sincerely saddened by the fact that this movement is having such an impact on American Evangelicalism, they are making their move in an intentional fashion by grabbing hold of the pastors from all over America. They know that once they reorient the leadership in American Evangelical churches, then they will also reorient all of these pastor's local flocks.

In my next post (which will probably be later today), I will break down how those two statements that I shared above from TGC's 'Confessional Statement' are pure unadulterated statements of the TULIP.

PS. Here is a link that gives a fuller picture of the Vision of RE: Train.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

5 Point Calvinism Isn't Really The Problem?

I recently read from someone who is not an advocate for the theology of 5 Point Calvinism, that they don't ultimately think that this is the real problem (at least for them personally); they seem to be happy to leave this movement (like The Gospel Coalition etc.) in America alone, as long as they keep to themselves and don't make pronouncements against other Christians. I found this sentiment to be intriguing, but also troubling. The troubling aspect with this is that the theology of 5 Point Calvinism is affecting millions of Christians in America, and having drastic consequences on their daily spirituality; and not good ones, I would surmise.

Or maybe at the end of the day nothing really matters, theology is imperfect (which it is), and thus it will all be sorted out in the end. Just as long as you love Jesus, that's all that really matters ... whatever that's supposed to mean. Forgive my cynicism!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Blame God and Sin, An 'Asymmetry'

If you are going to blame anyone, blame God; for eternal life and salvation, that is. As an 'Evangelical Calvinist' my understanding of God's choice, relative to the individual's appropriation of that in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ's choice for us, is this:

  1. Is that a person can only recognize their salvation because they have been made new and chosen by God in Christ. God has chosen 'humanity' exemplified in the incarnation of Christ for us. And so people who are in bondage to their choices which are shaped by a heart that on its own is inward curved and self-loving, are enlivened through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are given a capacity by the Spirit to say Yes to the Father only in and through what has already happened in the humanity of Christ for us. We will never choose God left to our own devices.
  2. The reason that everyone does not choose God instead of themselves can only be attributed to the mystery of evil and sin (because God has chosen all of humanity in the humanity of Christ); NOT GOD (only salvation in Christ can be attributed to Him!). This is what James 1 says:
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

And John 3:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

So, to speak crudely, we blame God for salvation and His life in Christ for us; and we blame the inexplicable and fleeting reality of evil and sin for unbelief (and this sin is really just an absence of God's 'being', an absence of his life of love ... which is to say, that sin ends up being no-thing, and thus it is irrational to try and understand it or explain it).

[So there is an obvious asymmetry between these two things]. But it should be clear how this is a 'Calvinist' way of understanding things as well---minus the kind of deterministic/logical-causal reasoning that usually attends both classic Calvinist and Arminian ways.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Can You Say that Evangelical Calvinism is Different than Evangelical Arminianism?

This post is in response to Cal (a commenter here), who has emailed me, and asked how it is that Evangelical Calvinism differentiates itself from Arminianism? It seems that Cal's primary 'delimiter' is the issue of choice and free will, relative to the person's potential capacity to reject or accept the salvation that is theirs in the vicarious humanity of Christ. To begin with, let me attempt to answer Cal's question with a response that I gave to Roger Olson at his blog when he asked a similar thing (my discussion with Olson is in the context of him engaging Myk's and my book Evangelical Calvinism). Here is what I wrote:

I think the difference is the asymmetry that we would place between so called “election” and “reprobation.” Since we press a ‘positive theology’ we emphasize life, the eternal life of Christ as the lens and ground through which we conceive of humanity (his vicarious humanity). So it’s not that we don’t see a need for personal response & faith in order to appropriate the salvation that is the person’s in and through Christ’s Spirit Anointed humanity; instead, it is that we are emphasizing that ‘true humanity’ can only be defined in relation to Christ’s humanity as the ‘original image of God’ (cf. Col. 1:15)—which flows naturally from our ontological theory of the atonement, or, in fact, leads to. And so when we think and speak of humanity we only want to do that in what we have called in the book ‘Christ conditioned’ ways. The fact that some (and even many and most) reject their humanity (and salvation) in Christ, again, from our perspective can only be understood as a ‘surd’ or through the inexplicable nature of sin’s persistence in the ‘Now’. So we hold, as one of our Theses’ asserts, that all of humanity (in redemptive history terms), are ‘carnally’ united to Christ, but not all are united ‘spiritually’ (ultimately). But, again, when we speak of humanity and salvation, in particular, we stress the idea that both carnal and spiritual union between God and humanity has occurred in the vicarious humanity of Christ; and it is through a Spirit created “unioning” with ‘this’ (Jesus’) humanity that the elect say ‘Yes’. So the choice for salvation has already been made for all of humanity, in Christ (from God’s perspective, this is how we understand ‘Pre-destination’ and ‘election’ in Christ); the fact that some reject this, again, is a surd (or absurd) relative to what God has done in Christ (‘for us’).

So the issue has to do with how one conceives of Divine causation, and a certain metaphysics that attends that. We as Evangelical Calvinists (especially Myk and myself) follow Thomas Torrance's rejection of the mechanical, logico-causal and deductive schemata that funds the theology of 5 point Calvinism, for example. So we reframe the discussion in the way that we think the Self-revelation of God does, in Christ; in a Triune, dynamic, personalist, and relational way. We aren't trying to answer the same questions that classic theology does, because we think the questions that shape classic Calvinism and Arminianism are non-starters relative to the faulty starting point they begin from relative to their kind of substance metaphysics.

Cal's question also wonders about, apparently, the sovereignty of God in salvation. In other words, if God has chosen for all of humanity, per the theologic of the incarnation, and in this choosing he has liberated all of humanity to choose or reject salvation in Christ; then how is this any different than an Arminian conception of prevenient grace? This is the point that we must go back to what I just described as logical-causalism, because we (as Evangelical Calvinists) do hold that God in Christ has chosen for all of humanity; we do believe that when and if someone is 'justified/sanctified' (double grace), spiritually, in Christ, that God has brought about this salvation, subjectively, by the Spirit, in their lives. This gets us back to my response to Roger Olson; we think scripture and Christic faith move and breathe in the realm of emphasizing life, God's life in Christ. And thus we believe that the primary emphasis is LIFE not death, such that reprobation is not an viable aspect---only an accidental one---when we articulate our view of salvation. So we are not really far away, at all, from classic Calvinism, in this sense; in the sense that we believe that scripture and God's Self-revelation in Christ demands that the reason the elect are 'saved' is because of God's choice for them in Christ. We don't think that God's Self-revelation in Christ supplies any kind of ontology or theo-logic for discussing WHY anyone is reprobate [except for the intractable and inexplicable reality of sin cf. John 3:16ff] (and so the asymmetry I noted in my response to Roger). And then this, once again, gets us back to what I was noting in regard to our rejection of logico-causal metaphysics. I realize this will not satisfy folk who are committed to using scholastically informed modes of reasoning (which all of Western theology operates from, in general), and that some will assert that us Evangelical Calvinists aren't playing fair; but it is what it is.

Hope this helps, Cal.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why Understanding Calvinism Matters

Some folk might wonder what the big to do is all about when it comes to the whole discussion this blog is dedicated to; that is, the discussion surrounding Calvinism and Armianism. In fact, I think many Evangelical Christians are so far removed from anything dogmatic or doctrinal, and instead given to 'real life', practical and pragmatic issues, that they simply scratch their heads when they come a cross a blog like mine. I have this experience, personally, quite often; in other words, nowadays when folk ask me about my book (when they find out I have one), and I start to explain it to them, most of the significance is lost on them because they don't have enough context, theologically, to grasp the significance of what we are trying to offer alternatively through the introduction of Evangelical Calvinism.

Nevertheless, to most Evangelical's chagrin, they are induced by the theological categories of Arminianism or Calvinism (in their classic forms) any time they listen to radio preachers, their preacher, and or fellowship with other Christians. The fact that they can't identify the theological categories they are being exposed to on a daily basis (if they indeed inhabit the Evangelical sub-culture) does not also mean that they aren't being exposed; it just means they are ignorant or naive to their exposure. So part of my goal, with a blog like this (and just in my own mode of daily life as a Christian) is to expose people and inform folk to what they are indeed being exposed to theologically. Some people might say, who cares; but the reality is, is that ideas have consequences (even ideas, and especially ideas that are held unconsciously), and so it behooves the Christian person to become aware of the ideas that shape their own theological identity, and then seek to make sure that what they explicitly or implicitly endorse, theologically, actually aligns with scripture and the God who is Self-Revealed in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, part of the 'Fall' (in the garden with Adam and Eve) entailed the fact that knowing God requires work (and I don't mean a works righteousness salvation, but that even in our salvation, we are called upon to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ; and this presupposes work and toil cf. II Tim. 2:15). Of course, our 'flesh' or sin nature does not like to toil and work, and our culture conditions us to just take it easy. But this is not the ethic and life that God has called us to in Christ Jesus. Our hearts beat from a different city, a city whose foundations are heavenly (not platonically understood of course); and thus we need to be busy about God's mission and work. Part of this busy-ness requires that we cultivate relationship with God in Christ. This cultivation process is commonly known as theology.

At the end of the day, this is why understanding something as nuanced as Arminianism and Calvinism matters. We don't live in a theological vacuum, we live in a Christian world that comes with its own categories of thought and cultural dispositions; we are all impacted by theological ideas, the responsible Christian will try to understand what those are, and then act on cultivating healthy Christian ideas relative to God's Word.

Check out my other blog: The Face Of Christ