The Gospel


By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. III:3

Those of mankind who are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving Him thereunto.
The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, III:5

Jonathan Edwards

The enjoyment of [God] is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husband, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 5

July 19, 2007

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 5 of 10-- by mdever

In case you hadn't noticed, I've been attempting to reconstruct the history of the resurgence of Calvinism among younger evangelicals in the late 20th century, and I've been attempting to do this even in the order of these posts. So I'm not suggesting that the first (or the tenth) reason I'll give is the most important. Rather, I'm suggesting that in the 1940's there was little encouragement, though there were Spurgeon re-prints. Then there was added the increasingly known preaching of Lloyd-Jones. To that, by the late 1950's, you could add the re-prints of Banner of Truth. Then, in the 1960's & 1970's, I have suggested that the rise of Evangelism Explosion was quietly undermining one of the main objections American evangelicals had to a Calvinistic soteriology.

As we move into the 1970's and 1980's I would suggest that another main cause for the renewed popularity of Calvinism came through the Inerrancy Controversy. Controversy over the authority of Scripture has always been there. From the early church to the Reformation, various challenges to Scripture's authority were met and defenses erected. From the rising deism inside "Christian" countries in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the early work of Biblical critics in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible-believing Christians have had to articulate their understanding of God's infallible working through sinful humans to compose His perfect Scriptures. From Gaussen in Geneva to Warfield in Princeton, the 19th-century churches produced careful defenses of the inerrancy of the Bible.

Controversy over the Bible has always been with us. But it is the storm summarized and energized by Harold Lindsell's 1976 Battle for the Bible that I specifically have in mind. (See the 9Marks website under articles for an annotated bibliography on this issue.) The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) was already in the depths of the storm by this time. The Southern Baptist Convention was just entering it. And evangelicalism at large became galvinized by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. Many of the most stalwart defenders of inerrancy were not Calvinists. But many were. Through this controversy, Jim Boice, RC Sproul, Jim Packer, Carl F. H. Henry, Roger Nicole and many other Calvinistic theologians were given larger audiences, especially among ministers. Old Princeton (especially the Hodges, Warfield & Machen) was re-introduced to a new generation.

But there was more to it all than young ministers beginning to read a Hodge here and there, or Carl Henry's vast project (God, Revelation and Authority in 6 volumes!). Theology was being discussed. Young evangelicals were encouraged not simply to preach and pray, visit and counsel, but to engage in theological thinking, to argue systematics. And not only that, but the very shape of the arguments used to promote inerrancy were exemplary of the Reformed understanding of God's complete and ultimate sovereignty over the completely responsible action of human agents. Much more could be said, but you get the idea. In the 1970's and 1980's, many young ministers were being educated theologically by theologians who had Calvinistic soteriology and a Reformed understanding of God and of His work with humanity. Part of what has led to Calvinism among the young has been the defense of Biblical inerrancy--in having a theological conversation at all, but especially by who was defending it, and how.

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 4

July 13, 2007

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 4 of 10 -- by mdever

Some astute inquirers have noticed that all the influences I've mentioned so far have been British. A couple of observations about this. My wife and I lived in Britain for 6 1/2 years, and I would say that there is something in the British culture (perhaps it is part of living in a much older place) which is at home with given-ness. That is, where an American would say "that's unfair" a British person might simply respond "that's the way life is." There is both maturity and resignation in this British response. Such different responses have advantages and disadvantages for both sides. It is simply the case that our friends in Britain are the children of those who stayed, and we Americans are all the children of those who left. Consider the interesting gene pool that's created!

I'm not saying that Britain 70 or 80 years ago was a hotbed of Calvinism. It wasn't. But there was an at-home-ness with the Bible's teaching on election and predestination that seems somehow more alien to Americans. During the mid-20th century, Reformed theology was not totally absent from America. There was the Dutch Reformed community in Michigan and the mid-west. I first read Flavel and Baxter not from the Banner re-prints, but from those by Baker (though that Baker Book House is, sadly, long gone). A. W. Pink travelled around and made friends with various conservative Reformed Baptist ministers (among whom one was my great-grandfather, Leaman Winstead). But on the whole, the early and mid-20th-century was a desert time for Reformed theology in the broader English-speaking evangelical America.
And then came what many may see as an unlikely aid to the cause.

Among the most deadly objections to Calvinism among American evangelicals was the charge that it killed missions and evangelism. American evangelicals have had, for a hundred years or more, an inability to distinguish between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. Calvinism teaches the absolute sovereignty of God and the real responsibility of man. Hyper-Calvinism teaches that because God is sovereign our actions, essentially, don't matter. That is, because the end is already established, the means may be dispensed with. (Thank God Paul didn't think that! Look at Romans 9-10--the strongest statement on predestination leads to the strongest call for missions and evangelism! He himself had been encouraged in his evangelism in Corinth by the doctrine of election--see Acts 18.) Even among those who could distinguish between the two, Calvinism was dismissed by saying that it always led to hyper-Calvinism. The slippery slope is always a fascinating argument. The inevitablity of certain consequences from certain circumstances at least always sounds compelling.

And then came Evangelism Explosion. D. James Kennedy, a native of Augusta, Georgia, became the pastor of a little PCUS church in Ft. Lauderdale in 1959. He began training his people to do evangelism. And by 1962, he had organized this as a program called Evangelism Explosion. The book continues on, in its 4th edition. It has been used literally around the world. It is the subject of much debate and criticism among evangelicals. Missional types dismiss it as a modernistic sales job, assuming too much to be of any use today. Reformed types dismiss it as one-sided, coercive, or decisionistic. Nevertheless, neither of those sets of discussions need to detain us as a matter of history.

My suggestion is that Evangelism Explosion (and the subsequent dramatic growth of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, especially in the 1960's) became a quiet, but telling piece of counter-evidence against the stereotype of Calvinism killing evangelism. Kennedy was unashamedly Calvinistic in the soteriology he presented in his sermons. He later joined the PCA, with the Westminster Confession as its doctrinal standard. Regardless of how consistent or inconsistent one takes aspects of EE to be with Reformed theology, a church that clearly meant to be Calvinistic pumping out evangelism, and evangelism training throughout the 1960s and 1970s was a telling argument in pragmatic America. I'm not sure anyone thought of it at the time. But I think that it substantially weakened the ground of the opponents of Reformed theology. A pastor born in the 1920s, coming to maturity in the 1940s may have assumed that Calvinism was as gone as the horse and buggy, and partly he may have assumed that because of the "evangelism-killing" argument. But a pastor born in the 1960s, maturing in the 1980s, would have a hard time taking it for granted that a Calvinistic theology always (slippery slope) leads to killing missions and evangelism. There would be too many churches around him using Evangelism Explosion.

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 3

July 12, 2007

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 3 of 10 -- by mdever

From the Great Plains of Kansas, I write a brief blog suggesting a third influence on the resurrection of Reformed Theology in this generation--The Banner of Truth Trust. In 1957 Iain Murray and others with a shared vision and funds began to reprint Puritan and other reformed titles. A magazine appeared, which re-aquainted us with ministers and authors of the past. Books appeared. Well-bound and attractively presented, no such editions of Reformed works from the English-speaking tradition had been popularly published for a century. Through consistently keeping key titles in print, carefully screening what would be published, word of mouth, huge 50% (or more) discounts for theological students, the Banner brought affordable, well-presented re-prints of classic works to a new generation. The libraries of our generation of ministers are filled with books written decades and even centuries earlier, newly re-printed. Some contemporary authors were published--not least of whom is Iain Murray himself. He has produced a series of productive works, uniting piety, theology and history, all in a popular style and with an eye to instructing and edifying the church.

But what was most exceptional about the Banner in the late 1950's was its widespread distribution of literature from the past. The Princeton faculty teach us again through their books. Dutch Calvinsts and English Puritans appeared again. Readers were introduced to 19th-century divines (the Bonars', Charles Bridges). Furthermore, the Banner was in it for the long-term. They were theologically motivated. They were not put off publishing a work because it would not sell immediately. They gave time to allow an old classic to slowly disseminate through networks of Christians and fraternals of ministers. And their assiduous work in publishing in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s has clearly helped to bring forth (and equip) a harvest in the 1980s and 1990s and still today.

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 2 -- Mark Dever

July 02, 2007
Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 2 of 10
by mdever

At the J. I. Packer conference held at Beeson Divinity School last autumn, Jim Packer was asked who the heroes on his mantle were. He mentioned six. One of them was Spurgeon. Another of them was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Now this may seem strange considering the public division that came between Anglican evangelicals (like Jim Packer) and "the Doctor" (Lloyd-Jones) in the mid-1960's. In short, an address Lloyd-Jones gave was taken as a public call for evangelical Anglicans to come out of the Church of England. This ended many joint projects in the 1960's between brethren who had, in previous decades, labored together. What's more, Packer and Lloyd-Jones had been especially close. Jim Packer had been an undergraduate with the Lloyd-Jones' eldest daughter, Elizabeth (now Catherwood). She had introduced Jim Packer to her father, and the Doctor had been a huge encouragement to Packer theologically and spiritually. Furthermore, several years later, when Packer was living in London, he would go to hear Lloyd-Jones preach in the evenings as his own schedule allowed it. Their ties were deep, thus the division was painful.

Still, 40 years later, when Jim Packer is asked the question "who is the greatest man you've known" I have, on several occasions, heard him reply without hesitation "Martyn Lloyd-Jones."
Lloyd-Jones is less well-known in American evangelicalism than in Britain. Though he made several trips to the US & Canada, Lloyd-Jones had an active preaching ministry in Britain for over 50 years, and most of it in the center of the nation--London. His preaching shaped countless thousands of Christians in the mid-20th century. His books--from Spiritual Depression to Studies in the Sermon on the Mount to Preaching and Preachers--are classics for Christian devotion and especially loved by ministers. His books, by numerous publishers, remain in print today, more than a quarter of a century after his death.

Lloyd-Jones was never partisan and narrow in his preaching. He rarely mentioned what we call "theological labels", and yet his preaching was in no way shallow, dodging difficult theological issues. Lloyd-Jones was perhap the leading advocate of and pracititioner of expostional preaching in the mid-20th century English-speaking world. And God gifted him to powerfully bring the listener into the very presence of God as he preached.

Much of his preaching--like Spurgeon's--lives on in print. Go to Amazon and you'll find hundreds of titles by or about him. From his masterful series of sermons through Ephesians and Romans to little occasional pieces like "Will the Hospital Replace the Church?", Lloyd-Jones was used of God to greatly enrich the minister's library, and his heart. Like Spurgeon before him, the riches of previous ages are brought down to the reader today. J. C. Ryle and George Whitfield, John Owen and Richard Sibbes, Calvin and Luther--all are quoted, stories from their lives recounted in Lloyd-Jones' sermons and writings.

He was also a man of tremendous stature. He was the one man in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s British evangelicalism that you had to deal with. His fingerprints were all over the broader evangelical movement--from Tyndale House in Cambridge to the Inter-Varsity Fellowship to its international expression, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, to the Christian Medical Society, to the Evangelical Library. On and on we could go.

Even if many of those who were born in the 1970s and 1980s haven't heard of Lloyd-Jones, chances are their ministers have, and have been influenced by him. Both John Piper and Tim Keller have borne eloquent testimony to "the Doctor's" influence on their own preaching. No other figure in the middle of the 20th century stood against the impoverished gospel evangelicals were preaching, and did it so insightfully, so biblically, so freshly, so regularly, so charitably--all without invoking a kind of narrow partisanship that wrongly divided the churches.
I never had the privilege of hearing Lloyd-Jones preach "live." But if you did, or if you ever heard him recorded (which I have many times), read this section of one of his expositions from Romans 1, and see if you can't "hear" him:

“Let us look at the first part of that statement: ‘they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. . . .’ What does that mean? The Revised Standard Version reads: ‘They did not see fit to acknowledge God,’ but even that is much too weak. What it really means is, ‘They did not approve of God,’ because the word that the Apostle uses is the word that is used for testing. It is the word that was employed for testing metals—gold and so on. A lump of metal would be shown to the expert with the query, Is this gold or is it not? They tried it by various tests on it. That is the word that is used. You apply tests—and what the Apostle is saying here is that mankind, having considered God, having examined Him, having ‘tested’ Him, decided to reject Him! Like the scientist who, given this lump, says, ‘No, this is not pure gold, this is an alloy; throw it away!’ Now that is the attitude of mankind towards God. They consider God. They are the judges, you see, and God is a subject for examination! ‘Ah, yes,’ they say, ‘very interesting; now let us see about this God! You say you believe in Him . . .’ and so on. They are going to get Him, and having done so, and in spite of this full knowledge which He has given in the ways that we have seen, they decide that they are not interested; it is not worth while to bother any longer about God! The Apostle Paul wrote this, remember, nineteen hundred years ago, but you see what a perfect description it is of mankind today. How interesting to have a discussion about religion and to talk about God! Should God do this or should He not do that, and what I think about God! They examine God and reject Him. ‘They did not like to retain God in their knowledge.’ What an appalling statement! What a terrible condition! That is the state of mankind; they did not think it worthwhile to retain God in their knowledge; they deliberately put Him on one side. And man in sin is doing this still.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans 1, p. 383).

Where'd all these Calvinists come from? Quietly, all over the world young Christians, young ministers have had their spiritual tummies rumbling after they've been reading many of the spiritual bestsellers, books that are full of jokes and life tips, whose height of profundity have been something like "Lighten up and Live!" And someone has turned them on to Lloyd-Jones. And, by God's grace, they have learned about the grace of God, and the God of that grace.

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? -- Mark Dever

June 26, 2007

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From? Part 1 of 10 -- Mark Dever

Two events served to bring to the front of my mind the growing prominence of reformed theology among the young in the American evangelical scene.

1) I was having dinner in Manhattan a couple of years ago, seated between a couple of older prominent evangelical Anglicans. They were discussing the drought of good preaching that they had been surviving through for the last couple of decades. I said only a little to them (said that wasn't my impression), but it made me notice the veritable garden that it seems to me in the circles I run in that God is growing up.

2) At Together for the Gospel, April 2006, at one point I asked people to stand by ages. Out of 3,000 we had a few senior citizens. Some guys in their 50's. A lot in their 40's. A TON in their 30's. And even MORE in their 20's. Now, there could be a lot of reasons for that, but let me simply say that when Collin Hansen came out with his interesting article about "Young, Restless and Reformed" in the fall of 2006, I had already observed the phenomenon and agreed with the premise of his article--that there does seem to be something of a reformed revival among those born in the 1970s & 1980s.

The purpose of this series of posts is simply to address the question--why? And I mean that not in a theological sense (our God is sovereign, or because people read their BIbles) but in an historical sense. As a trained historian, I know that suggesting causation among historians is a bit like alchemy among chemists. But it's just too interesting for me to pass up!!
I intend to suggest these sources in a roughly chronological order, wondering, if there were so few self-conscious Calvinists in the 1950's how'd we get so many of them today?
Source #1 is the only source I'll mention which endured throughout the 20th century in a consistent way--the writings of C H Spurgeon.

Of course, behind Spurgeon, and quoted by him, were lots more--Edwards and Whitefield, Bunyan and Owen and the rest of the puritans (SIBBES!!), Luther and Calvin and the other reformers. But no one can top the continuing popularity of Spurgeon and his sermons. If you look at the magnificent 57-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series of sermons, they are commended by a stunning host of the great and the good among mid-20th century evangelicals. Not only did Spurgeon's younger contemporaries revere and recommend him (like B. H. Carroll, founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) but so did many of the most eminent among the preachers of 1950 and 1960. Simply look at some of those who wrote commendations for the reprinting of the Met Tab series by Pilgrim. Look who was exhorting everyone to buy and read these sermons, and in the most glowing of terms! WA Criswell and Billy Graham. Wilbur Smith and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Stephen Olford and John Walvoord. R. G. Lee and Charles Feinberg. Herschel Hobbs and Helmut Theilicke. John R. Rice and Harold Lindsell. J. Harold Smith and Curtis Vaughn. Jack Hyles and D. James Kennedy. That list is so extraordinary, that it's pretty safe to say that you couldn't have gotten that list of people to endorse the writings of anyone OTHER than C. H. Spurgeon! Some of them even wrote books against Calvinism, but they praised Spurgeon.

If Spurgeon was the underground aquifer bringing down the nutrients of earlier generations to those after him, then it was this generation of preachers--many of them anti-Calvinists--who, ironically, were the aquifers who brought us all Spurgeon. And friends, if you keep being told to buy Spurgeon, eventually you'll probably read Spurgeon. And if you read Spurgeon, you'll never be able to believe the charge that all Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists, and that Calvinists can't do missions and evangelism.
Spurgeon seemed about as healthy and balanced as a Bible-believing Christian can be. In his preaching He exalted God's grace, centered on the cross of Christ, instructed Christians and pled with sinners.

It was Spurgeon who said in his sermon on I Cor. 1:23-24, "I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, "We have not so learned Christ."
Many of the ministers who now decry what these young people believe are the very ones who commended Spurgeon to them. And these young men have trusted their pastors recommendations.

That's one of the places that I think all these young Calvinists have come from.
Special Added Value: I'm writing this in Geneva, Switzerland, where I'm to be lecturing and preaching until Thursday (DV). From the place where I'm staying, I have a clear view of mighty Mt. Blanc. I am reminded of the quote of one of Spurgeon's admiring contemporaries, John A. Broadus, one of the founding professors of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Broadus said, "The people who sneer at Calvinism might as well sneer at Mt. Blanc."