I have the book Young, Restless and Reformed on order, but have not yet read it. Comes now Peter Masters with a review of that book right here, and he says some things in the course of his review that I have to respond to. I am not saying anything about the book, mind you, not having read it, as I mentioned before, not having read it, but I can’t let some of the assumptions of this article go by without taking a swing. If you are involved in ecclesiastical punditry, never ever let a fat pitch go by.
The title of the article says it all — “The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness.” What Masters means by this is that he objects strongly to the fact that a rising generation of five-pointers rejects some of the doily arrangements on the davenport of old school pietism. So to speak.
He takes John Piper and John MacArthur to task for having anything whatever to do with this business, and dishonorable mention also goes to Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and Mark Driscoll. I don’t differ with everything Masters says here, but the center of his objection is an appeal to certain sectarian traditions as though they were the emerald glow around the throne of God. I intend to comment on three of his more problematic statements.
“They have no problem with contemporary charismatic-ethos worship, including extreme heavy-metal forms.”
Now anybody who has been reading me for very long at all knows that I would rather run a mile in tight shoes than introduce your average Time/Life worship song into a worship service I had any control over. But in taking this stance, the problem I am resisting is not worldliness, but rather a radical misunderstanding of what kind of occasion a worship service is, and what kind of music is suitable for that kind of occasion. And in the second place, as rock music goes, ours forms of it are almost always lousy rock music.
Christians need to play the blues long enough to understand them (and the music forms that have come from them), and then demonstrate that they understand them by not suggesting that they ever be played in inappropriate venues. The point I am making is one of cultural education and musical maturity, not one that evaluates those who differ with me as “worldly.” Now, yes, I know that some of the edgy brethren on this music issue are worldly, and do not feel comfortable worshipping God without a new tattoo on their calf. But the problem is that some of those who agree with me on the tattoo are just as worldly, and sprinkle their daytimers with weekly wine and cheese events in support of the local symphony and/or arts councils. Worldliness is an attitude, and won’t stay behind these sorts of make-shift fences. Those who identify worldliness with something ushered in by Chuck Berry to a heavy back beat must sometimes wonder what the apostle John had in mind with his warning, writing as he did several millennia before the electric guitar was invented.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn. 2:15-16).
It is not a trifle to accuse a Christian brother of worldliness. One of the human traditions that Masters represents that I find most objectionable is the licence taken to say the most outrageous things about fellow believers just so long as you take care to say it with “sorrow,” and/or “grief in your heart.” Thus it comes to pass that Masters can imply that MacArthur and Piper don’t have the love of the Father in them, and it gets a sanctimonious pass, and I make a tart little joke about doilies on davenports, and you would think I had pitched a dead cat at the altar.
“They are soft on separation from worldliness.”
Again, the problem here is not that Masters calls for a separation from worldliness, which Scripture does in fact require, but that his definition of worldliness is more indebted to the residue of Victorianism in certain parts of the church than it is to exegesis.
While working on this post, to take a snippet of my playlist at random, I have listened to “Feelin’ Alright” by Joe Cocker, “Rivers of Babylon” by the Melodians, “96 Tears” by ? and the Mysterians, “Lonestar” by Norah Jones, “Almost Hear You Sigh” by the Stones, “Watching the River Flow” by Dylan, “Motherless Child” by Clapton, and you get the picture. Now here is a quick quiz. Get out your Bibles, everybody. Is that playlist worldly? This is a different question, incidentally, than asking if Joe Cocker and Eric Clapton are worldly men. But when you ask that question, you also have ask the same question about Liszt and Chopin, not to mention other composers of other pieces that sweet homeschool girls play at their piano recitals.
“They reject the concern for the personal guidance of God in the major decisions of Christians (true sovereignty), thereby striking a death-blow to wholehearted consecration.”
And this from a man who a moment before was chastizing the charismatic element in the behavior of the new Reformed! It is bad to lift hands to the Lord like the charismatics (and like John Calvin, but let that pass), but it is not bad to make personal life-decisions as though the gift of prophecy were still operative today? A personal word from God, your name on the envelope and all, is necessary to true consecration? Why can’t you just do what the Bible tells you to do?
One of the reasons I am pleased with this resurgence of Calvinism is that the sovereign God takes us as we are, but He never leaves us as we are. The doctrines of grace deal wtih human autonomy and pride like nothing else, and to the extent that these things are being proclaimed (as they clearly are), the young people who are being established in this teaching will be transformed and will grow up into cultural maturity, or they will quickly abandon any pretence of Calvinism. Calvinism is high octane stuff, and it will have its way with us.
All this said, let me conclude with one area where I agree with Masters strongly. He says this of some young Calvinists of his acquaintance: “We know of some whose lives are not clean. We know of others who go clubbing . . .” All Christians of every era are called to be holy as defined by the Bible, whether or not they like music that is musically retarded. So those issues aside, when it comes to things like fornication, drunkennness, revelings, and the like, those who do such things are worldly, the love of the Father is not in them, and they will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is not that difficult.