Sunday, November 15, 2009

Musings from the Landscape of Church Sub-culture

My 6-year-old son got to select a prize from the AWANA store the other night for memorizing Bible verses. (For the uninitiated and you non-fundies, AWANA is an evangelical Bible club for kids).

He came home from church with a missile launcher. (Now that's a sentence I've never typed before). For some reason, I find this hilariously ironic. How often do you see rocket launchers at church, even if they're only Nerf? I went to a church once where the nursery director wouldn't let my son walk in with a (mostly-empty) water gun, because it was such a non-Christian influence.

Our church gives out missile launchers. Interesting.

There is something in evangelical circles that makes people vaguely uncomfortable with women who are actually pretty sharp theologically. They don't know what to do with them, so they invite them to join committees. There seems to be an unwritten assumption that "serving in ministry" means you would love to do the flower arrangements for the ubiquitous "Ladies Luncheons". That is, when you're not busy homeschooling your kids and making pie crusts from scratch.

I am not that woman, not even a little bit. I guess that's okay since my husband doesn't really like pie anyway.


I received the following comment from a well-known Christian literary agency the other day:

"My colleagues and I agreed that your writing is absolutely refreshing. You have honed your craft to a level that most writers, unfortunately, do not reach. Marie, you also bring a unique perspective to a growing bookshelf of ideas about how Christians should view addiction recovery and counseling. Your perspective is extremely conservative, in a vein with which we would identify ourselves. We like your approach and we like your book idea."

I appreciated the feedback, and was pretty pumped.

Is it just me, or are some Reformed Christian authors just too darned Reformed for their own good? Don't get me wrong; the Reformers were the heroes of the faith who rescued biblical Christianity from the mysticism and superstition of the Dark Ages. Currently,the Reformed camp has and is producing FAR better quality writing than most of their brethren (the sort Phil Johnson labels "evangellybeans"), but sometimes in the quest for doctrinal precision and endless parsing, the relational aspect of Christ's love is lost. Taking an extreme position on the Doctrines of Grace can leave one scratching one's head.

For example, and I'm not naming names here, a couple of my favorite homeboys state that when sharing the Gospel with a potential convert, one should never tell him that "Christ died for [his] sins because you have no way of knowing if that individual is one of the elect or not." Um......alrighty then. So...what exactly should we tell him? "Hey! I have great news! Christ might have died for your sins!"

Doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Jesus looked at the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:20-22), loved him, and bid him come and follow Him. And the guy still walked away (which I find staggering). Repeatedly, we see that the invitation is open to all...we all have a chance to be one of "the elect".

Some folks seek to be more Calvinistic than Calvin.

Or take my recent example, of how having a high view of God precludes focusing on our own "felt needs", and that it is blasphemous to think in terms of OUR own value. I get that we are totally depraved, and the Atonement speaks of HIS infinite worth, glory and value....but...several places in Scripture, God's Word indicates that we are precious to Him. If we were truly worthless to God, He never would have sent His Son. I can see where there's a danger to making the Cross all about us, rather than about God (and people do), but even the Puritans recognized Christ's love for the individual.

I agree God does not exist to meet our emotional needs, but whaddya do when you have a tough day? Or do Reformed peeps never have a tough day? I'd rather pour my heart out to God than post about it on Facebook, as some folks do. Sometimes, after reading about the proper view of God, I actually have a tough time praying. I find it intimidating and don't really know what to talk I wind up on Blogger instead. The Reformers themselves were passionate, emotional, introspective people. Sometimes in today's literary Reformed camp, one can learn much but feel nothing. One believer I know wrote: "I loved Reformed people, but I loath their "We are the Christian Intellectual Elite" complex. When Christianity is all head and no heart... yep, the balance is lost."

Yep, indeed. Let's make sure it's Jesus Christ we're worshipping, and not John Calvin.


Anonymous said...

Congrats on the very specific compliments. Those are the best kind.

Rocket launchers seem like a great prize to me, but I'm a guy.

AWANA rocks, btw. My 16 yr. old goes to a Baptist church and has grown so much in just a few months with her group.

Marie said...

"If I had a rocket launcher....I'd make somebody pay....."

Remember that song from the '80's? Bruce Cockburn:

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

My question has always been, how does a Calvinist KNOW he is one of the elect and not just someone who THINKS he is, and won't really perservere to the end?

Marie said...

Well, you can definitely know if you're saved (and therefore one of the elect) - the "assurance" spoken of in 1 Timothy 3:13; Hebrews 10:22 and throughout 1 John is the Spirit confirming we are God's children. Can a true believer lose a subjective "feeling" of assurance, Oh, yes. But Scripture is clear we can know that we're saved - we know Him by faith.

But I don't think that's what you're asking - you mean, if predestination is seen as ultimately arbitrary, how can they be sure they were one God "picked" at random? Actually, I don't think that's a real representation of historic Calvinism - one of the Pyro guys talked about that misconception a while back. Essentially he affirmed the need for a person to respond - that's the saving faith part - but only on the basis of that faith could a believer rest secure in Christ.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

I agree with you. The problem is the guys who say God chose who would or who would not be saved - predestined to salvation - and it then the only people who have faith to exercise towards Christ are those God chose to give that faith to. So my question has always been, why evangelize if the person is predestined to salvation anyway, and if he isn't, well it doesn't matter if you evangelize to him. And of course, the question already mentioned, can you really tell someone that God loves him and Christ died for him if you don't know he's one of the elect?

This may not be the historic representation of Calvinism, but it is the one which has been presented to me by every Calvinist I know! And most Calvinist teacher I've read say the same. I don't remember which book it was, but one thing that really showed me the silliness of the teaching is where I read R.C. Sproul say he really couldn't be sure he was one of the elect until the end. That is very sad!

Marie said...

R.C. Sproul said that?? Huh. That's sad.

I mean, really. These guys are so theologically correct and sharp - how can they preach on the eternal security of the believer in one breath, and yet be so...insecure in the next?

Yeah, the only way we can view it is to remember that God exists entirely outside of time. He "predestines" in the sense He's Sovereign - He knows from the beginning who will come and who won't - but it is still the individual's responsibility to respond to Christ as the only way of salvation.

This is completely consistent with monergism - we can do nothing to effect salvation. All God asks is for us to exercise that faith He's given us. Sadly, many choose not to.

Whosoever means "whosoever", and Christ commanded us to "go forth and make disciples". I keep coming back to His Word.

These guys are great, but ultimately they are just men and therefore fallible. Their fine minds and careful analysis of biblical truths is a great blessing to the Body, but sometimes I think they lose sight of the simplicity of the Gospel. And it's entirely possible to disagree with one on one point, yet overall get a lot out of his teaching (the biblical counseling movement the one I quoted started, for example).

I have an announcement forthcoming on that subject, BTW. :)

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

A large percentage of the scholars I read are Calvinists. I just ignore their Calvinistic stuff. But I really get tired of being called an Arminian just because I don't believe God arbitrarily chose who will or will not be saved.

I really enjoyed Dave Hunt's "What Love is This?" Calvinists don't like it though.

Marie said...

I know!! "Arminian" has become the knee-jerk catch-all put-down of the hyper-Reformed camp. Kinda like you're automatically labeled a "legalist" if you even imply, sin is kinda bad and stuff.

(rolls eyes here)

The Pyro guys dragged Hunt through the mud over "What Love is This?" I haven't read it so I couldn't comment, but I found his "The Seduction of Christianity" excellent.

Yep. Eyes on Christ. If we keep them on Calvin (or any other specific theologian), we wind up with a collective headache.

And I say that with the utmost respect for the Reformed preachers - they seem to be the ones best clinging to holiness today.

Barbara said...

Ah, the favorite straw man. What I do is open up Romans 3 and Galatians 5 or depending on the situation, if it's a TBN follower who rebukes "spirits of suffering" or someone in need of comfort, then I open up 2 Cor. 12 and Romans 8, and in the end - especially in the case of those who are filled with self-righteousness, but in all cases I always go back to Romans 5:

For while we were yet helpless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Marie said...


Excellent approach - thanks. You know, these days I don't really spend so much effort trying to understand the workings of the Doctrines of Grace, but rather focus on grace. It really is all about Him.

Hey, it's great to see you around. You're not going to believe this, but I was thinking about you earlier today. I was interpreting for an ortho patient this morning - we've known each other for a while, and I shared the Gospel with her last year; she had told me she prays and reads the Bible, so I figured she was fair game - anyway, this lady is in near-constant pain and she has a lot of problems in her life.

I can tell she kinda likes touching on spiritual topics, and she wondered aloud why God allows so much suffering; why the more good she does [to adult children] the more they hurt and under appreciate her. Shouldn't it be the opposite? Shouldn't the good we receive be proportional to the good we do to others?

Well, I pointed out, Christ was sinless; yet no one suffered more than He. They did not appreciate Him - (and here she finished my sentence for me) - yet He took the punishment for our sins. I am pretty certain this (Eastern Orthodox) lady has a saving faith; I don't do "sinners prayer" and I don't want to speculate, but she certainly seems to understand the Gospel and completely clings to God.

So anyway, I explained that even if her daughter, grandkids and SIL don't see or appreciate her love and sacrifices, God sees. He appreciates. People will always let her down, but God never will and she can always trust in Him - she agreed.

Then I remembered I just so happened to have a copy of Paul Washer's sermon, "The Meaning of the Cross" in my folder (the Bulgarian translation - for some reason, a ton of his and John Piper's stuff has been made available in Bulgarian), so I gave it to her - she was psyched. The funny part of it is, I had never heard of Paul Washer until you started posting some of his sermons on your blog. At first, I kind of wondered about him, because he seemed a bit abrasive, but I checked out a couple points with you and listened to him more, I was amazed by his humility and broken heart for the lost. He has convicted and encouraged me many times.

I know that you are a nurse, and witness regularly to patients. What I've noticed, and I'm sure you realize this anyway, is how very much of a difference it makes to patients when they see that light of Christ and compassion/personal caring in you nurses. Most of the time I'm in hematology/oncology, and believe me a smile, kind words, and a pat on the arm make a HUGE difference to these sick folks. It can even open the door to sharing Christ with them (although I know I miss more opportunities than I take).

'K, now I'm totally off the topic of Limited Atonement and rocket launchers, but just wanted to share. :)

Barbara said...


In one chapter of Death by Love, Mark Driscoll addresses a man named Caleb whose wife is suffering from a brain tumor. In this letter, he shows how for Caleb, Jesus is his Christus Exemplar. It is a stellar letter. As it draws to a close, he tells Caleb,

"...the Spirit-filled perspective of Jesus allows us to remain Jesus-centered in our thinking, Spirit-led in our practice, and humble in our hardships. This is made possible when we realize that because being Spirit-filled means being like Jesus, such things as poverty, sickness, and hardship are not incompatible with living a Spirit-filled life. Indeed, the most perfectly Spirit-filled person who has ever lived, Jesus Christ, worked a simple job, lived a simple life, and died a painful death as a flat-broke, homeless man by the power of the Holy Spirit and in so doing perfectly and fully glorifed God the Father and tasted pure joy."

A stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, indeed - even to this very day. But something we so very much need to know and to remember each and every day. It is only by the power of the Spirit that any of us can even desire to share in the sufferings of Christ, and that is part of the cost that He Himself told us to count. But such wonderful news to those who are being saved.