I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love. Mother Teresa
As our readers know, we have come up with a term “Calvinista”, which we use to describe Calvinists who take this doctrine to a whole new level. Calvinistas are very sure that they are interpreting the Bible absolutely correctly and leave little room for disagreement amongst the faithful regarding secondary issues. In fact, secondary issues take on primary importance to his crowd because they are utterly certain of what every verse in the Bible means. In particular, the role of women and authoritarianism are hot button issues. However, they fuss with one another on the issues of paedobaptism versus believer’s baptism, with both camps being 100% certain of the correct Biblical interpretation.
These men hang around in groups such as The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel. They write lots of books, endorse each others’ books, and fly around to lots of conferences where they hear each other speak, etc. They stress big churches and pull in big incomes. They are so sought after that they are asked to autograph Bibles by their admirers. Some of the big boys in this movement (it's important to stress that this is a predominantly a male thing since women have no place in church leadership) include: Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Joshua Harris, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, David Platt, and Francis Chan, among a growing throng of leaders who want to catch the Calvinista wave.
However, several of these guys are going “off message”, which is causing a stir in the Calvinista network. First, John Piper took a "leave of absence" to get his life in order. Here is a link to our article John Piper Jumps the Shark.
Two other members of the club – Francis Chan and David Platt — are causing some waves, and a few of the big boys appear to be none too happy. I am focusing on some decisions that these two men have made about their lifestyles. There is no question that I have disagreements with them doctrinally, but that is for another day. Also, I believe that some of their doctrine may be in flux as they begin a new emphasis in their ministries. Only time will tell…
My daughter attends Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and she has recently been attending David Platt’s 4,000 member Church of Brook Hills (SBC) in a very lovely suburb of Birmingham. A couple of Sundays ago, she asked me to attend church with her. I have to admit, I was rather impressed. The stage area of the pulpit appears to depict street life in a desperately poor third world country. My daughter confirmed that this is a permanent setting.
During the service he introduced a couple who will be going to Seattle to reach out to the large immigrant population of that area. They indicated that only 4% of Seattle's population claim to be evangelicals. There seemed to be a great emphasis on missions during the service, and my daughter says that it is par for the course.
Platt is a soft-spoken man, not given to histrionics, cussing, or other new or hip preaching methods. He gave an excellent presentation on the book of Habakkuk. The music combined contemporary and traditional lyrics by a decent worship band that did not engage in over amplification or lots of jumping around and emotionalism. I actually knew most of the songs, but I wish I could sing them on key.
What struck me was Platt’s own commitment to living amongst the poor. He has sold his house and moved his family, which includes three adopted children, to a two-bedroom home in the inner city of Birmingham, which is known for its high crime rate. He is urging his well-heeled congregation to do the same. Why? It appears that this Calvinista had a crisis of faith.
In an interview with the Biblical Recorder earlier this year we learn:
“He could no longer ignore the fact that children starve to death and people die from chicken pox and Christians are martyred. His heart became burdened for the needs of others.
“If these needs are real, and if I believe the gospel, then my life has to reflect a radical abandonment to Christ,” he said. Platt came to understand that “to be serious about living the gospel out” he had to restructure his values and priorities.
Platt and his wife sold their house and moved into a smaller one. The goal is to “establish a cap on our lifestyle to free up as much as possible to give away” and he is challenging Brook Hills to do the same.
Eighty-three percent of the worship ministry was cut as Brook Hills came to learn they really can do more with less. A plan to revise the budget was in place in just a few weeks because the people were ready.”
Meanwhile, over on the west coast, Francis Chan is stirring up all sorts of controversy. Francis was the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. His church draws 15,000 on an average Sunday. He has been a best selling author and darling of the Reformed set, until now. Chan has decided to quit his pastorate. From the Christian Post we learn:
“The well-known preacher is still unsure of what his next adventure will be or where God is calling him to though he's feeling drawn toward Los Angeles. Part of him wants to go somewhere where he is unknown, he said. He also has a sense that he's being called to do church differently, not necessarily with formal Sunday services.
"I've really tried to search my heart on this because when you feel led by the Lord you have to first look at the Scriptures and make sure you're going because of the Scriptures," he stressed.
Checking his motives, Chan said money wasn't drawing him, nor was fame or comfort. In fact, he believes he's being led to greater obscurity and to lift other people into the limelight, and he expects there to be more difficulty and pain wherever he's going.
He plans to take his family to a third world country – possibly Thailand – where they will care for victims of the slave trade and orphans while spending time seeking the Lord.”
It has also been reported that Chan wants to concentrate on urban ministry. Wikipedia reports that “Chan gives away about 90 percent of his income … Chan doesn't take a salary from his church, and he has donated all of his book royalties, which total about $500,000 to various charities. Much of it goes to organizations which rescue sex slaves in foreign countries.”
Both Platt and Chan seem to share some similar concerns. They are giving up an upper middle class lifestyle to live among the poor and abused. They are emphasizing missions in order to serve the poor and forgotten.
Now, one might think that their fellow pastors and authors would commend them for being willing to live a radically different lifestyle. Mark Driscoll, who wrote a book entitled Radical Reformission, seems to be rather perturbed about Chan’s sudden departure from the lifestyle of the rich, reformed, and famous. In other words, it appears that Driscoll is threatened by real radicalism, as lived out by Chan.
In an interview with Chan and Joshua Harris, Driscoll appears disapproving. Click on the link for the actual interview.
The following is a synopsis of that “round table” palaver. Driscoll exhibits his unusual aptitude for the English language in the following exchange.
"It seems to me that if the primary view of sanctification comes through simplicity, poverty, suffering, if you don't get those things it's almost like when God blesses, it's hard to be sanctified because you don't know what to do with it," Driscoll said. "And so you almost have to get rid of that which is complicated, make life hurt a little more, go to a third world country, and/or adopt poverty and give it all away because you're only allowing God to sanctify in the preconceived ways.
"What if God wants to sanctify you through not poverty but generosity, not suffering but blessing, and what if it's not through simplicity but complexity?"
Driscoll cautioned that Chan could be following a "poverty theology", which he said is "the same error as prosperity theology – that holiness comes from have or have not, not who is".
Joshua Harris, a close friend of Mark Driscoll and one of the golden boys of the oft-criticized Sovereign Grace Ministries, joined in on the fray.
"Driscoll and Harris, who are council members of The Gospel Coalition, expressed some concern over starting something and leaving and wondering if he would repeat that pattern in the future. The two appear to gang up on Chan in this exchange.
"How long do you think you'll be at the new work before discontentment or frustration sets in because if I was in the core group I would ask that question. Is this a discontentedness in your soul that won't ever be satisfied?" the Mars Hill pastor (Driscoll) asked.
Harris also offered, "If everybody out there just said 'hey, let me go start something new' … that's an important thing to realize. We do need guys who are in an established church and go 'you know what, maybe it's not alright but here's how I can slowly over time build and redirect in certain ways and so on'."
I think that there is a crack in the façade over at The Gospel Coalition. It is well known that one must carefully toe the party line on secondary doctrinal issues. One is also expected to endorse GC members’ books and attend each other’s conferences so that maximum profits and notoriety might be obtained. After all, travel is the spice of life.
But, it appears, that it is totally and absolutely against the rules to make any sort of suggestion about lifestyle. It is far worse to go beyond the suggestion and actually live a radical lives. Men like Driscoll and Harris lead well-to-do lifestyles and it is evident that they like it this way. They also like their big, fancy, high-tech churches. They are even so bold as to suggest that their churches might be in trouble without their presence, if their above critique about Chan deserting his church is to be believed.
And when one of their own begins to express doubt, it is time to call in the troops. Calvinistas are so cocksure of their paradigm that being unsure about one’s calling really rattles the cage.
I find Driscoll particularly interesting when he seems quick to point out that God might be sanctifying people through generosity. Although, at its very core, there is some truth in that, the Bible makes mention of the fact that it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
Driscoll then goes on to point out poverty theology as being as bad as the prosperity gospel. I am not sure what planet Driscoll is living on, but I know very few people who are willing to sell all that they have and go to live amongst the poor. The vast majority of Christians would far rather embrace a God who wants them to be comfortable. Driscoll need not be too concerned about a sudden rush to embrace “poverty theology”.
I think the underlying issue is rather clear. Both Platt and Chan are being called to a simpler lifestyle, which emphasizes sacrificial servanthood, and are encouraging others to do the same. The real problem is the same one that the rich, young ruler had to face. How many Christians are really willing to question their lifestyle, their mission, and their lives and reject the status quo to follow a less traveled road? Frankly, this blogger finds the lives and theology of Platt and Chan far more intriguing and challenging than the ho-hum “bless me” club of the typical Calvinista. And anyone who irritates Driscoll and Harris can't be all bad.