Archive for the ‘Church(es)’ Category

From The Vault: Mark Driscoll Vs. Mark Driscoll



This was four years ago:

In recent years we’ve found that Mark Driscoll does like to have his authoritah respected by his church. From a NY Times article on Mars Hill

“In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that,according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “Hisanswer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached.”

Hmm. I wonder how an earlier incarnation of Driscoll, as depicted by the Tall Skinny Kiwi would have seen this? Once there was a Mark Driscoll who was less than impressed by pastors with big egos:

“This one guy, who’s ministry was named after himself, gets up to the stage which had his name plastered on 3 different banners around the stage. Mark Driscoll was next up to speak after this braggart and instead of trying to do one better, he simply bows his head and prays for the entire time a prayer of repentance for our arrogance. Then he walks back to our table and sits down. Sweet! Soooo timely and prophetic. I’ll never forget that one.”

Now I suppose the legion of Driscoll apologists will rush to point out that Driscoll has not ever called anything Mark Driscoll Ministries or something of that sort. Whatever. Arrogance can manifest in all manner of forms. Driscoll used to be the sort of guy who could pick out the sort guy he is now.

Two Kingdoms and the Great War

Philip Jenkins makes an insightful point about Lutheran two-kingdom theology and the Great War in his book The Great and Holy War:

German Protestants of this generation, though, had remarkably few qualms about presenting violence and warfare as legitimate tactics for a Christian state. Through its Zwei-Reiche-Lehre (two-kingdoms doctrine), Lutheran theology taught that the two kingdoms, earthly and heavenly, each had its own moral codes and ways of being. Although Christians lived in both simultaneously, it was impossible to apply the absolute demands of New Testament ethics to each: the state simply could not be expected to operate according to such standards. A state that turned the other cheek in the face of aggression or invasion would soon cease to exist. Even a nation made up almost entirely of devout Christians could never act politically according to strict Christian moral teachings. Potentially, this approach justified cynical state actions that seemed to violate Christian teachings or commonly accepted moral standards. In 1914, the doctrine overrode objections to the treatment of Belgium.

Philip Jenkins, The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014), 84-85.


***UPDATE*** Bob Robinson kindly took the time to interact with my blogpost in the comments which you can read here. I respond to it here where I concede that I was wrong in my first criticism, but believe that the others stand. ***UPDATE***

There are a number of problems with Bob Robinson’s article, “So What is Wrong with Neo-Calvinism?” In it Mr. Robinson argues that it is better to call the Young, Restless, Reformed movement “Neo-Puritan” instead of Neo-Calvinist. I will highlight some of the historical problems with this very briefly here:

1) Mr. Robinson lends credence to the criticism of some “Old Calvinists” that due to the preponderance of Baptists in the YRR movement, it should not be called “Reformed,” hence why Mr. Robinson prefers the term “Puritan.” The problem with this assertion is that the Puritans were part of the period scholars call Reformed orthodoxy. I am not sure how “Neo-Puritan” helps protect the integrity of “Reformed” from us Baptists. Likewise, calling YRR “Puritan” does not mitigate the problem of covenant or baptism—representative Puritans were covenant theologians and paedobaptists. The early Particular Baptists were also strongly covenantal.

2) Mr. Robinson fails to provide an adequate definition of the term Puritan. Contrary to his use of the term, Puritanism was not a monolithic movement and included non-Calvinists such as the important John Goodwin who was an Arminian. Likewise, what about the General Baptists? They were Puritans and also Arminian. If you follow the work of the late Geoffrey Nuttall, a Puritan expert, then other more fringe groups like the Quakers were also Puritans. Patrick Collinson famously defined a Puritan as a Protestant of the “hotter sort.” You can see my article “Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism” for reasons why this is a better way to understand the movement.

3) In a chart seeking to provide the historical provenance of the Puritan movement, Mr. Robinson looks to Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) as the first or quintessential Puritan. The problem is that historians of evangelicalism like David Bebbington categorize Edwards as an evangelical not a Puritan. This points to the related problem of determining when the Puritan movement came to a close. Some scholars argue that Puritanism ended with the Act of Uniformity and the Great Ejection of 1662. For myself, I have argued in the essay linked above that the Puritan movement largely ended at the death of the last representative Puritan John Howe (1630-1705). While some romantically like to call Edwards, Spurgeon, and even Lloyd-Jones the “last great Puritan,” it remains the case that none of these were Puritans rightly so-called. Puritanism was largely a seventeenth-century phenomenon.

4) Related to point 3, Mr. Robinson fails to see the variegated nature of his own example of “Puritans,” lumping Owen, Baxter (not a Calvinist strictly speaking), and Edwards together as though they all shared the same theological perspective. Edwards is very, very different in terms of his theological emphases than Owen. And Owen and Baxter were engaged in a lengthy theological debate. None of these men should be conflated as Mr. Robinson does.

Although there are others, these historical problems undermine Mr. Robinson’s thesis. For a more detailed analysis on how to define Puritanism see Randall J. Pederson’s Unity in Diversity.

Against Sexual Abuse

I found this podcast really significant for a number of reasons:

  • The Mortification of Spin hosts have very strong Reformed bona fides so none of the SGM lackeys (or other sex predator apologists) can say that this podcast was somehow theologically motivated and an attack on conservative, complementarian, Reformed, evangelical Christianity. A strong stance against abusers is congruent with Reformed theology, and an attempt to make this about some kind of spat with the Tchividjian boys is merely a red herring.
  • Their guest, Diane Langberg, made the important point that stories of domestic abuse are almost never fabricated – there is no hiding in the fog of, “oh well, it’s he-said vs she-said, how can we know” on this matter.
  • The hosts made it clear that an abuser of children who has truly repented will want nothing to do with children and will happily accept a church that would rather bring the service to him than have any children put at risk. Anyone hiding behind some BS like, “isn’t the church all about forgiveness?” as a means to gain access to children and escape oversight is not truly repenting.
  • The only part I felt they missed on was perhaps spending more time on the importance of going to civil authorities. It grieves me that there are still churches who can believe that these matters can be handled in house. Thought experiment: what if the abuser was a serial car thief instead – can anyone not imagine a pastor urging that man to turn himself into the civil authorities?

Make no mistake, these wolves are stalking your churches, their victims are in your pews.

Calvin and Niccolo

…or, more accurately, the Calvinists against the Machiavellians. The pseudonymously-authored and famous Huguenot treatise Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos has been a subject of fascination for me for many years, but upon reading the recently published edition (1999) I learned something new about it. That is, while it certainly had Catholic-Protestant conflict in its background, in fact it explicitly aims not at refuting Catholicism, but rather Machiavellianism. George Garnett, the editor of the new edition, writes:

It has been argued that the preface’s promise of an anti-Machievellian treatise is not fulfilled in the book which follows. … But… this misses the point of the preface. Cono Superantius argued that an effective response could be mounted against ‘the Machiavellians and their books’ only by referring the ‘rule of princes and the right of peoples … to their legitimate and certain first principles’. Brutus had later sent him ‘a book of these investigations, which comprises these principles, and proves and expounds them’ … . Gentillet recognised that there was little point in trying to engage with Machiavelli’s arguments on their own terms: Machiavelli and the Machiavellians could only be answered effectively by pinning down the moral descriptions which they had made so slippery. And this could only be done by grounding the moral order, and therefore the governmental order, in the order of nature, created by God. This is precisely what the author of the Vindiciae attempts to do… . (xxi-xxii)

Garnett also notes that there may be some truth to the then common insinuation that the French royal government of the time really was inspired by Machiavelli:

The author of Le Tocsain, published in the year to which the preface is dated, claimed that Catherine de Medici had used Il principe as a text book for her children, and that ‘it might be described as her Bible’. If Boucher is to be believed, Henri III had learned his lessons well at his mother’s knee: he kept a copy always in his pocket, for ready reference, when he needed guidance on how to be most effectively evil. A defamatory slur this may be, but the king’s letters sometimes seem to echo the precepts and even the phrasing of Il principe. (xxi)

And to the degree Machievellianism is alive and well in the minds of the powerful today, Vindiciae may continue to have some relevance.

Thoughts on The Future of Protestantism


I am still trying to process the essays and interchange at “The Future of Protestantism” (video) roundtable held at Biola last night. If you are unfamiliar with what I am referring to, the Torrey Honors Institute, Davenant Trust, and First Things co-hosted an event where Fred Sanders and Carl Trueman responded to Peter Leithart and an essay that he wrote last year on the future of Protestantism. City of God friends Peter Escalante and Brad Littlejohn were both involved as moderator and organizer, respectively.

All in all, I enjoyed the interchange. Each of the conversation partners, and the moderator, had distinct personalities that made watching and listening a pleasant experience. The added element of following on Twitter with the hashtag #protfuture was also good, as people with varying perspectives on ecumenism shared thoughts and concerns. The humour over the Other Peter’s mustache was also quite hilarious—it felt a little like Dali was in the house!

I have sympathies with Leithart’s concern for a publicly visible unity of God’s people. I also agree with him that the traditional Protestant understanding about the Church of Rome is that she is a true church but has become deformed (to use the language of some participants last night). The question that I continue to wrestle with, however, is: at what point does a church cease to be a church? It strikes me, based on what Leithart said about Jehovah’s Witnesses, that an “in/out” boundary is found in the formulations of the ecumenical creeds. Thus, if a church ceases to believe in the Trinity or deity of Christ, it is no longer a true church.

However, Galatians 1:6-10 indicates that the boundaries should be tighter than Trinitarianism or Christology and should include concerns about the gospel (would Leithart say this is tribalism?). Leithart points to N. T. Wright’s definition that the gospel is only a declaration about Jesus Christ as Lord, not justification by faith. While I agree that the gospel is not less than a declaration about Christ’s lordship, it is certainly more, and is deeply bound up with justification by faith. Or, to view it with another soteriological lens, how do I a sinner become reconciled to God? Is it by my own work or merit? Or do I trust in what Christ did in his propitiatory sacrifice and his resurrection on my behalf? Based on his words last night, I would think that Leithart would have to say, ultimately, that it does not matter. If Protestants and Catholics effectively share the same gospel—that is, that the gospel is only a declaration of Christ’s lordship—then it does not matter whether my works contribute to my reconciliation with God or not. Because of Galatians 1:6-10, I can’t escape the fact that Paul would anathematize such a view. Is he not the one who elsewhere said that the gospel is the power of salvation for everyone who believes, Jew or Gentile? Is he not the one who linked the “good news” (euangelizometha) and “justification” (dikaiothenai) in Acts 13:13-52, esp. v.38? This is what brings about eternal life.

I do not doubt Leithart’s genuine desire that Protestantism should develop a higher liturgy. I too would love to see the Eucharist become more central than it is in many denominations. When I visit my mother’s Reformed Baptist church back home, they practice weekly Communion, and I am deeply blessed by that. I would also love to see Protestants have a more robust and Reformed understanding of the real presence. But as I listened to the discussion last night, so much of that part of Leithart’s discussion felt like a veil, masking the core question of what is the gospel? The Roman Catholic Church and Reformed Protestanism hold fundamentally different views about the gospel. Sure, we share the ecumenical creeds, but that is not enough.

One might also ask, what about those Protestant traditions that are purposefully low-church? Is it wrong to not want the accouterments and trappings of medieval Christendom? What about the Salvation Army, or Black Gospel churches? What about churches in other countries on other continents that express their worship according to different cultural norms? Leithart’s vision seems to be heavily indebted to historic European forms of worship.

These are the thoughts jumbling in my head as I come away from last night’s discussion. Leithart’s vision, if it is stripped of the admittedly important, yet also secondary issues of worship, seems to be the ecumenical message that has been in vogue for the last hundred or so years. I have yet to be convinced by that movement, and I remain unconvinced by Leithart—as interesting as I often find him.

John Newton Brown and Calvinism

In the discussion about Baptists and Calvinism, Emir Caner made some comments about the New Hampshire Confession of Faith arguing that it is neither Arminian nor Calvinist, but Baptist. Aside from the historical confusion in such a statement, is the gist of what he is getting at true?

My friend Mark Nenadov has written two posts giving pertinent advice on how to view the Confession in its historical context, particularly as it pertains to the one who most view as its principle framer, John Newton Brown. Mark is an independent researcher who runs a website dedicated to Brown and has written an excellent essay on him that I hope will soon be published. Mark is a published poet and came to his interest in Brown through the latter’s poetry.

In his first post, Mark outlines two misapprehensions about the New Hampshire Confession that are worth being aware of. In his second post he looks at the Calvinism of Brown, calling him an “American Particular Baptist.” He gives some excellent quotes from Brown outlining his Calvinism. These posts highly relevant to the current discussion and I hope that they get a wide reading.

Fuller and the Atonement

This post is occasioned by the recent discussion over Fuller and the atonement begun by Emir Caner, who argued that after a debate with the Arminian Dan Taylor, Fuller adopted a general atonement. This assertion was responded to ably by Michael Haykin who argued that this was not the case, and that the issues involved in Fuller’s theology of the atonement are deeper and need better nuance. David Allen has since replied to Dr. Haykin seeking to vindicate Caner’s original assertions. In his reponse, Dr. Haykin spoke of the influence of certain New England theologians on Fuller’s language of the atonement. I thought I would elaborate on Dr. Haykin’s brief words. For what it is worth, I remain convinced that Dr. Haykin’s initial response to Caner stands.

Last autumn I had the opportunity to present a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society on Andrew Fuller as a Calvinist Theologian. In it I dealt primarily with Fuller’s view of the atonement and whether his later change in theological language prohibited him from a seat at the Reformed table. This paper, together with others delivered as part of the Fuller Studies Group, will be published in a volume introducing Fuller’s life and thought, hopefully some time this year.

The big debate in Fuller studies is whether he changed his view of the atonement from the so-called “limited atonement” perspective championed by traditional Calvinism to a “general” atonement more in line with certain forms of Arminianism. Fuller’s most important work was his Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (1785) that was at once a break with his Hyper-Calvinist upbringing and a spur to the modern missions movement and the sending of William Carey, William Ward, and Joshua Marshman to India. In the first edition of Gospel Worthy he had a succint, but clear discussion of the application of Christ’s satisfaction where he quotes John Owen and Herman Witsius approvingly, self-consciously reflecting a standard Reformed view.

The controversy over Fuller’s view of the atonement comes with the publication of the second edition of Gospel Worthy (1801). It has been argued by a number of scholars that Fuller adopted the “governmental” language of the atonement that was used by the New Divinity men in New England—Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Bellamy, and others who are the heirs of Jonathan Edwards. They famously spoke of Christ’s satisfaction in more general terms. There is no doubt that Fuller was indebted to the New England theologians, as he made clear in a number of places. What is not clear is whether he adopted their view of the atonement in toto. What I argued in my paper (and I am not original here, scholars like Robert Oliver and Tom Nettles have argued likewise) is that though Fuller adopted some of the language of the New Divinity men, it did not require him to change the substance of his theology of the atonement which remained committed to penal substitution, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and particular redemption.

Without going too far afield, Fuller did adopt “figural” language of imputation without denying the reality of it (you will have to read my essay to get more detail about this!). And suffice it to say that Fuller openly adhered to penal substitution after 1801—in 1803 he told his friend John Ryland Jr. that it was never a question with him: “I have no consciousness of having ever called the doctrine of substitution into question” (“Three Conversations,” [687]). But what about particular redemption? Did he deny it?

In the second edition of Gospel Worthy Fuller related the application of Christ’s death to the sovereign design of God. God intended for Christ’s death to be applied to “those that are saved.” To quote him at length:

[A]s the application of redemption is solely directed by sovereign wisdom, so, like every other event, it is the result of previous design. That which is actually done was intended to be done. Hence the salvation of those that are saved is described as the end which the Saviour had in view (“Gospel Worthy,” [374]).

This last line is a statement of particular redemption. Fuller goes on to say, as he argued in the first edition, that there is no contradiction between “the peculiarity of design” and the universal offer of the gospel. As with election, the preacher is commanded to offer the gospel freely to all without fear of contradicting Reformed soteriology. In “Three Conversations” he puts this in the language of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619): that Christ’s satisfaction was “sufficient for all” but in its application was “efficient” for “those whose salvation it was intended” (“Three Conversations,” [696]).

The debate over Fuller’s view of the atonement was initially struck in his own time by the great London Baptist Abraham Booth who feared that Fuller had veered too close to Arminianism. I argued in my piece—following others like Oliver—that Booth misunderstood Fuller. The most notorious modern critic has been George Ella, who I believe has been satisfactorily answered by scholars like Oliver and Nettles. Ella argued that Fuller adopted the “Grotianism” of the New Divinity men—that is, the view of Christ’s satisfaction taught by the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). My basic argument, following Oliver Crisp and Garry Williams, is that Grotius was not a Grotian and neither was Fuller.

While Fuller was an admirer of much of what Hopkins, Bellamy, etc., wrote, he rejected accusations that he accepted their theology carte blanche—see his response to Hyper-Calvinist John Martin in this regard. Though Fuller adopted their language as the lingua franca of the day, he consistently maintained the particularism that he first espoused in 1785.

In the conclusion of my essay I gave the last word to Kenneth Dix who was essentially the curator of the Strict and Particular Baptist heritage of which Fuller was a part—a man that I am happy to say I met in Dunstable, England, with Dr. Haykin some ten years ago now. Dix wrote of Fuller:

There were certainly times when Fuller made statements which might have been construed as a departure from the particularist position, but this was not the case. His belief in an atonement that was sufficient for all men but efficacious only for the elect, offended high-Calvinists, but he never gave up the seventeenth-century confessions. Andrew Fuller was no more responsible for any shift from orthodox Calvinism in the nineteenth century than the men who framed the 1677 Confession could be held responsible for the path taken by some of their descendants into the chilling winds of high-Calvinism (Strict and Particular, [269-270]).

Question: What About John Tombes?

For my paedobaptist friends who would argue that a Baptist cannot be “Reformed” based on our view of baptism, I am interested to know your thoughts on John Tombes (c. 1603-1676), whom Michael Renihan called an “Anglican Antipaedobaptist.” Should we think of Tombes as part of the Reformed tradition? He was an Anglican, yet he did not practice infant baptism. I’m not trying to be cheeky. I know how I would answer the question. I genuinely want to know how you would.

For Tombes’ writings against paedobaptism, see the collection at PRDL.

Charles M. Johnston


The Canadian Baptist Historical Society held its annual meeting for 2014 this past Saturday at McMaster Divinity College. As this year marks the centenary of the Great War, the papers for this meeting were dedicated to commemorating it in relation to Canadian Baptists. Gord Heath of McMaster presented on the Boer War as a precursor to World War 1, looking at Canadian and New Zealand Baptist responses to it. I presented the chapter that I co-wrote with Michael Haykin on Canadian Baptist responses to the War, which was a real privilege for me. But by far the highlight lecture was given by McMaster’s official historian.

Charles M. Johnston penned the authorized history of McMaster University, a two-volume work published in the 1970s. Although it is out of print, it remains a major source for any researcher looking into the period we were exploring on Saturday. As I wrote my chapter last year, Johnston’s first volume was always ready to hand. So, when I heard Dr. Johnston was presenting, I was thrilled. And I must say, he far exceeded my expectations.

Dr. Johnston is now 88 years old, and is legally blind (though he can see if he holds an object close to his eyes). I didn’t realize this when he ascended the lectern. All I kept thinking was, “He looks like Jack Palance.” I did notice, however, that he did not have any notes with him. I was sitting next to Dr. Haykin, who leaned over to me to whisper Johnston’s age, with a sense of marvel in his tone. Finding out that the reason he had no notes was due to his blindness amazed us even further.

I must say, even if Dr. Johnston had his notes, I would have been thrilled with his lecture. It was wonderfully crafted, beginning with a biographical sketch of Bernard Trotter, whom he likened to being Canada’s version of Siegfried Sassoon, and then winding to another sketch of the great Canadian intellectual Harold Innis. He also discussed the role that women played in Canadian physics during the war, and the great cost to McMaster as a result of her sending men overseas. He was gregarious, hilarious, and incredibly informative. It was a lecture I could only give in my dreams.

And to think, he delivered this wonderfully crafted lecture—that went for over an hour—without recourse to notes!

I wanted to give him a standing ovation at the end of it.

When I spoke with him and his lovely wife after the meeting, and thanked him deeply for such a wonderful talk, I was delighted to find out that she was a major reason why this lecture was so excellent. After he typed it, using a computer at 26 point font, she read and reread it over and over to him to help him commit it to memory. I thought that was deeply touching. Every once in a while, during his talk, I would glance at her, and she sat totally riveted to her husband, smiling at certain points. What a wonderful team!

May God help me to have that kind of marriage, and that kind of ability as an historian when I’m 88! Dr. Johnston was a real model for us, and put us all to shame.