Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Monday, November 15, 2010


The Barna group recently posted some interesting results from a survey related to Calvinism in today's evangelical world. "Is There a "Reformed" Movement in American Churches?"
Those of you who read magazines and blogs have likely noticed descriptions like "The New Calvinists," or, the "Reformed Movement." Until I read this article I was one of those who would have said that the theological wind was blowing in the direction of an emphasis on Divine sovereignty. My thoughts in that regard had to do with the popularity of some writes and preachers who it seems to me are on that end of the spectrum--Piper, Keller, DeYoung, Begg, Harris, and Mohler. A number of magazines have covered the phenomenon, here.

I won't quote any numbers from the survey, you can read it, but, at least it seemed to me, the survey results do not bear out any move toward Geneva. I would appreciate your take on these numbers and observations on the trend, or lack thereof, in general.

There was one aspect of the crunched numbers that reinforced a personal observation--"nobody is any one thing anymore." It used to be that if you identified a trait associated with say Calvinism, or Wesleyanism in a person's Theology, that you could with reasonable confidence conclude that this person also held to most of the other tenets of that Theological system. No more. Note this observation from the survey: "The study found that 31% of pastors who lead churches within traditionally charismatic or Pentecostal denominations were described as Reformed, while 27% identified as Wesleyan/Arminian."

It kind of reminds me of the pastor who went to a pastor's fellowship that had experienced a schism along Calvinist/Arminian lines. When he registered, for no reason that he could identify the receptionist sent him to the Arminian group. Not recognizing him, some of the delegates asked who he was and why he decided to join their part of the fellowship. When he told them that he had no choice, but was sent, they threw him out. Not knowing where else to go, he chose to go to the Calvinist meeting. You can finish the story. :) The moral is there are a lot of folk who don't fit in either end of the convention hall.

Maybe we can help each other understand what is going on.


Bruin said...

Some thoughts from Daryl Hart (an OPC elder, church historian, and great critic of evangelicalism) could be very helpful here. This series of articles is really helpful for those who have been following this phenomenon (as I have since I have been in college).

Sovereign Grace is an especially strange sect and are quite prevalent. The outcomes for their mishmash Reformed-Charismatic theology merits further discussion. They are a church of the present with little historical context, despite their strongest protests and appeals to Calvin and Edwards. Since they think they can pick and choose their theology from two completely different camps and forge their own music, I fear they become ecclesiologically self-absorbed.

Howard Merrell said...

I'm looking forward to reading the articles. Thanks.

Any S.G. people who are reading, let the record show that it is Bruin who called you a sect, not me. : )

Grist for the discussion:
If one is drawing his/her Theology directly from study of scripture, would it not be possible to come to a Theology that might have elements in common with several traditions? To the extent that one is drawing from scripture it would not be appropriate to accuse him/her of "picking and choosing."

I may have further comment after reading the articles.

Bruin said...

What we draw from Scripture can be influenced from our epistemology and metaphysics. Calvin didn't just make theological insights; he proposed a way of knowing manifested in Calvinism. Likewise, Luther is a way of knowing, as are different strains of both Eastern and Western Christianity. Notice that there are different agreements and disagreements between such giants as Augustine and Thomas: you can draw from both, but you will ally yourself differently depending if you're Platonic or Aristotelian.

The issue: are we individualists? (This is a dangerous belief, and, I would argue, quite wrong--I'm not an individual, I'm a person). Likewise, to what degree do we assent to authority. High church believers have a vibrant grasp of this, but it can be quite erroneous, as 1517 suggests (Catholicism split from Luther and a whole strand of Western Christianity, not Luther from Catholicism).

Bruin said...

I hold to the London Confession of 1689, but I am currently struggling with sections 28-30. For now, I am going to submit myself to those who are wiser and better than me. If I finally do decide that these are in error, I'm not going to go about calling myself a Particular Baptist. I will submit myself to another confession and root myself in that. I cannot be a ecclesiological vagrant--I need to put down roots in a church and encourage my children to follow. Similarly, if I pick and choose what I believe about my church's creed/confession, I am just a theological consumerist. I hope I'm not the only one that finds this disgusting.

Howard Merrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard Merrell said...

From a guy who works outside the USA:

…the research shows that many pastors do not necessarily conform to
traditional doctrinal perspectives when it comes to how they think
about or operate in their ministries. In other words, most of the
nation's 300,000 Protestant churches are in a state of theological
flux, apparently open to identities and trends that do not necessarily
fall within expected denominational or doctrinal boundaries. Given
this profile, we expect that new theological, relational, as well as
methodological networks that emerge will redefine the Protestant
landscape over the next decade."

Some random thoughts…

I haven’’t followed the trends enough recently in the US to speak
intelligently on the subject, but I have observed some interesting
things among some of our German co-workers. For example, one believes
in election (for salvation), but does not want to call himself a
Calvinist because he does not agree with Calvin on other points. It
seems that to him, if you didn’t follow all five points then you
aren’t really a Calvinist. In the States, it has always seemed to me
in the past that if you hold to even four points you are considered a
pretty staunch Calvinist. My friend said something to the effect that
he “didn’t want to identify himself with any system” but felt that
the biblical position was in accepting what ammounts to what JI Packer
described as the antimony between God’s sovereignty and man’s
responsibility in salvation. In the States, it seems to me that would
still make you a Calvinist. He doesn’t consider himself one.

It perhaps adds to the confusion (or flux, as the author put it) in
that in many instances the poll seems to interchange “Reformed” with
“Calvinist.” While it is true that most within the reformed tradition
hold to some form of Calvinism, it would seem to me that the
conterpart to “Reformed” is not Armenian, but rather
“Dispensationalist.” A good many of us within fundamentalism would
fall into the category of being Dispensational Calvinists (or
Calvinistic Dispensationalists?) It seems that is where there is more
of an open battle ground, between Reformed theology and
Dispensationalism, and that the tension between Calvinism and
Armenianism is less pronounced. Anyway, that would be my take on it
off the cuff.


Howard Merrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard Merrell said...

I guess, though, since I am the one who put this can of worms out, I can’t complain about it being opened. Doug and Bruin have given us much to think about. Thanks. I’m going to try to add some new comments, based on both B&D’s stuff.
Bruin’s paragraph about epistemology, Platonic, Aristotelian, etc.:
Agreed, I think. The way of thinking we bring to the scripture is key. What is the standard by which one’s Theology is to be checked? I would propose that when we are dealing with Theologies that claim to be drawn from the Bible and its authority—and we are in this discussion—then the ultimate appeal is hermeneutics and exigesis.
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.
( 2 Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16)
10.____The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved. (1689 LBC)

I figure it was because of the nature of this discussion—kind of like a written bull-session—but in Bruin’s discussion of submission to authority, there is an important missing element. Not only submission, but submission to what? Actually, it isn’t missing he comes to it later. I am submissive to the authority of scripture. I regard others, as aids who help me understand and challenge me to greater consistency in my submission. Bruin seems to say as much: “I hold to . . . I am currently struggling with . . . For now, I am going to submit myself . . . If I finally do decide that these are in error, I'm not going to . . . I need to put down roots.” That is an awful lot of “I”s for one who denies being an individualist. That comment was offered somewhat tongue-in-cheek. There is balance. None of us is able to figure out everything on our own, but each of us is responsible for our own decisions.

Howard Merrell said...

Doug raises the issue that often what a person chooses to call himself, or what groups he chooses to identify with are decisions that are made for reasons that are not primarily Theological. Am I a Fundamentalist, Evangelical, just a Christian? Talking with Doug I have no problem claiming the Fundamentalist label. I was raised in a Fundamentalist church and educated in schools aligned with Fundamentalism (2 markedly so). I have not rejected any of the core that I was taught so . . . Many Fundamentalists, however, would laugh at any claim on my part to the title, since I am not a militant separatist, which they regard as an essential aspect of the movement. In general conversation I don’t use the title. I’m also wary of calling myself an Evangelical. Many Fundamentalists equate that title essentially with Liberal, and the public at large tends to define it politically. It would be nice if just saying “I am a Christian.” would suffice, but that is interpreted so broadly as to be meaningless. The same is true about some of the designations in the survey. Doug’s conversations bear this out.
The articles Bruin referenced are somewhat related to this matter. They seemed to me to be not so much about, “What do I believe?” as “How much deviation from what I believe can I tolerate in another and still get along with him in a particular area?” I found it interesting that the Dever article, about what he could and could not live with, that was referenced in one of the Old Life Articles has been pulled.
One more thought:
Bruin says that he hopes that he is not the only one who finds Theological consumerism disgusting. If he means what I think he means, he is not. I too find it unacceptable. However, buying the whole Theological meal, offered by one strain of Theology does not prevent consumerism. I know people who are Catholic because they like the bells and smells. I have met King James only Fundamentalists who hold to that system lock, stock, and 1611 (so they think) because the certainty—even though it is false—agrees with their spiritual digestion. These folk are every bit as much consumers as those who take their religious views ala-carte. To go back to those points that I lifted from the old Baptist confession, the standard by which we judge what is right or wrong Theologically is the issue. Is it what I want, or is it the authority of “Thus saith the Lord.”?

Bruin said...

Most orthodox catholic (little o, little c) Christians aren't going to be attacking the supreme authority of Scripture anytime soon. The concern is applying it properly, realizing that the "I" is really rather small in the big picture of generations of God's people (most of which are wiser than me), but it's the "I" that I am responsible for to put into submission to Scripture as well as any authority.

I am arguing (I think in contrary to your position) that tradition is more than a sort of tool or instrument. It contains within it a kernel of truth. Josef Pieper has written a pretty cool book on this:

basically, he points out these really interesting examples of old thinkers talking about these ancient sayings/teachings that they received (such as a judgment of the dead). They didn't know the origin, but kept them. Pieper, as a Christian, points to Adam and Noah (who walked with God) and the truth that all men were descended from them passed on these truths probably from God Himself, which would be fulfilled in Christ. As a conservative, I take Burke, Pieper, and McIntyre's views on tradition. Burke asserts that it is a kind of resource/archive of wisdom (as Howard put forth), Pieper sees an activity of transmitting truth through the generations, and McIntyre sees an inescapable reality (since we use the language passed on to us, regardless of our desires and which originates from God, the Logos).

Howard Merrell said...


I certainly agree concerning my smallness. I am much indebted to the wise & diligent before me.

I'm not sure we are arguing contary positions or not. I heartily agree that tradition contains within it a "contains within it a kernel of truth." The rub is sorting out that kernel from the chaff. Whether it was Luther who began a movement a that left the Catholic church. Or the Catholic Church leaving the true tradition that Luther represented--in a sense I agree with the later--someone had to sort out the kernel from the chaff & outright fraud. The existence of multiple streams of traditions would indicate the same need. Whatever stream of tradition one regards to be true, if one goes prior to the time when that line was established or clarified he is apt to find tradition that was in error, based on the latter standard.
A great precher commented on the doctrinal statement that Bruin put forth:
"This ancient document is the most excellent epitome of the things most surely believed among us. It is not issued as an authoritative rule or code of faith, whereby you may be fettered, but as a means of edification in righteousness. It is an excellent, though not inspired, expression of the teaching of those Holy Scriptures by which all confessions are to be measured. We hold to the humbling truths of God's sovereign grace in the salvation of lost sinners. Salvation is through Christ alone and by faith alone."
C. H. Spurgeon

If these creeds must be measured by scripture, who does that measurement?

Another preacher, Mark Dever, says in an interesting article, "But if I call freshly on that which claims the allegiance of all evangelical parties—the Bible—and I work from there, I require their attention." (

The strange mixture of Theological traditions does concern me. Theology is not like a set of snap-together beads. What I conclude about the fall of man, effects what I conclude about the nature of salvation. My conclusions about the nature of the Word of God will impact all else, and as Bruin has indicated my prolegomena will tend to shape the rest of my thought.
I don't see "doing Theology" as a one time linear process. As I grow in my understanding (And thank you to those who are participating in this discussion. You are helping me to grow.) leading to more accurate conclusions about what the Word of God has to say about one thing, I may have to go back and evaluate other conclusions to see if they are consistent.
Maybe I am being accusatory, but that doesn't seem to be the pattern I observe in many, today. They simply say, "I want a little of this and a little of that."
The work of those who have gone before me can help me see these erroneous combinations (contradictions).
My devotion however is not to a particular creed, but to honestly dealing with Scripture. Since that has been the passion of a number of others before me, "Preach the word." (2 Tim 4:2) that puts me in a tradition. Perhaps it is the "Berean" tradition.

BTW, Pieper's book is on the shelf above my head, in my "I need to read this" spot. I'll reserve comment.

L. Mark Bruffey said...

Hi Pastor Merrell!

I just stumbled across your blog due to a reference you made to Kevin Bauder. I am in my eleventh year of service at Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, and have worked alongside Kevin (as librarian) most of that time. I am encouraged to know that at least one pastor in the Clifton/Covington area is doing serious theological thinking and reading. How rare that is these days. This of course makes you an oddball to the whacked-out variety of right-wing fundies. They may be the majority, but they are not the mainstream. Keep up the good work. One lifetime pastoring the same church is no small thing.

I don't have a lot of comments on your posts at this point, but I will tell you that Kevin Bauder's version of Christian Conservatism is quite distinct from conservative evangelicalism, especially in his critique of modernity and pop culture--neither of which either fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism has the insight or intellectual prowess to deal with. That's why you have neo-calvinism, so called. It's just a pop adaptation of a few snippets of reformed theology. It will all blow over in a few years, typically of pop culture.

Christian Conservatism is a completely different ball of wax. We pay careful attention to the Christian affections as a way of knowing. [I don't know who Bruin is, but I like a lot of what he has said on this blog post, BTW.] We are looking for a way out of modernity without toddling drunkenly after the postmoderns. We know we cannot simply go back, so we are seeking wisdom on how to go forward while reaching back to recover/conserve those traditions which are truly part of the Christian heritage, but which have been lost due to the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment has toasted the evangelicals, new evangelicals, fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. They just haven't figured it out--or refuse to admit it.

Postmodernism won't do, as it's just the enlightenment on steriods, for the most part. If the postmoderns don't like modernity, their progeny really won't like postmodernity very much. No, postmodernism simply won't do.

I suppose all this turned into quite a rant! Sorry.

If you want to recv Kevin's Nick of Time in your email weekly, send me a line at

L. Mark Bruffey

Howard Merrell said...

(Bruin if you are still around, part of what Mark is referring to is in a previous post.)
I am curious about your second paragraph. It would seem to indicate that Dr. Bauder is not a Fundamentalist. I thought that his later chapters of "Let's Get Clear on This" made clear that he embraced that title.
I have no axe to grind. At this point mostly curious.
As to the Bear's identity. I'll leave it at this. He is a good beast. He comes from these mountains. I'll let him come out of his den if he chooses. Your email address is in your post.
Again thanks. Have a good Thanksgiving.

L. Mark Bruffey said...

On the second paragraph, I certainly do not wish to speak for Kevin Bauder. In my estimation, Christian Conservatism is fully compatible with a "Fundamentalilsm Worth Saving." You know what that phrase means if you have read much of Kevin Bauder. In this light, the overlap between the two is significant enough that one might easily fit both categories. I would more proudly bear the label fundamentalist myself if it were defined solely according to the specifications articulated in "worth saving." Mark

Bruin said...

oh hi,

Mr. (or Dr.?) Bruffey, I am starting to think that postmodernism is but a species of modernism, which was really birthed during the Enlightenment (and owes a big debt of gratitude to Occam and Spinoza). Postmodernism doesn't turn to anything deeper or outside the path of where the Enlightenment was oriented. I think you are quite right in finding the fault-line of Western thought there. I think, as usual, the fault line we need to look to is AD 0 (or 33, or 63, depending on how you roll on that piece of scholarship).