Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Irony of the Resolved Conference

Every year Grace Community Church (GCC, John MacArthur) puts on a youth gathering called the Resolved Conference. I'm not sure where the idea of the "youth conference" came from, but I know before GCC invented theirs, it was popular in revivalist fundamentalism. I don't know of a "youth conference" that doesn't play off of the "youth culture." Resolved, from what I can see, seems to promote itself as a kind of anti-youth-conference youth conference with the use of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions. It is a nice idea for a youth gathering. I emphasize "idea." Edwards' resolutions start with "Resolved," from which comes the conference name. Of course, resolutions denote the operation of the "will," something that you will find is big in Edwards' writings. I'm writing this post to say that "Resolved" lacks in an Edwards-esque resolution. Even when you look at the home page for the conference, it has youth culture written all over, and not really a kind of "innocent" brand of youth culture---roller coasters, skits, tube tug, and mini-golf---but something that fits starkly within the world's youth culture.

Resolved tries to set itself apart as different with the preaching. They don't bring in "youth speakers" per se. They bring in what most would consider to be mainstream adult leaders in conservative evangelicalism, not straying much, if at all, from their normal content and presentation style, with the exception of the leisure clothes and open collars. Those alone do say "youth culture," but they are very minimal bows to the culture of leisure that so characterizes the modern generation (see any of David Wells' books to read about this as an expression of modernism). So if you listen to the preaching, you will get sermons from GCC's reformed friends. I emphasize "reformed," because cessationist doctrine is not one of the resolutions here with the inclusion of Charismatic C. J. Mahaney.

Either GCC and Resolved already are, have been, or have become Mahaney-like, or Mahaney has influenced GCC and Resolved in the bow to a Charismatic style of "worship." The stage of Resolved with its grungy, post-modern look, rock band with electric guitars and trap set, and showtime lighting does send a giant statement to the attendees about the emphasis of Resolved. The scene is very urban, gritty, loose, edgy, and "authentic"---actually quite contextual, a concept commonly sneered at by GCC but perfectly acceptable to them on their own terms. This is the setting the leadership chooses for depicting the themes of Scripture and for portraying Jonathan Edwards-like resolution. The people in charge are letting this youth crowd know that they "get it," that they know "what's happenin'," that they for sure didn't fall of the back of the turnip truck. They "get it" and so, by the way, it's OK for you to be a Christian and " get it" too. It's very fine to be right there with all the worldly lingo and fads. And this is the great irony for anyone who reads Jonathan Edwards.

It's as if the GCC and Resolved people think that by pasting on the Jonathan Edwards label that it automatically becomes Jonathan Edwards. Edwards is who he is. He's been dead for awhile, so he can't really offer his say on what he thinks of the association of him with this, but I can tell you for sure, with complete assurance, with airtight confidence, that Edwards would hate Resolved. Hate it. "Resolved, I hate Resolved," he would most assuredly write. But, of course, what does it matter what Jonathan Edwards thinks, because what really matters is what God knows. I think that was Edwards' concern too, so I believe that God also hates it. And I'll give you a hint. He hates the syncretism.

I give as my major exhibit the inclusion of the "worship" of their chosen rock group, Enfield, and then Bob Kauflin, the leader of the Sovereign Grace music group. I include a sample of "the worship" (click on link to get to video of conference "worship"), so you will have a basis for knowing what I'm talking about. I would have embedded the video into this post, but I don't want someone to be able to watch and listen to that here.

This is where I want us to consider what Jonathan Edwards, the original author of "Resolved," said about the "religious affections." Edwards wrote his Treatise on the Religious Affections in order to differentiate false spiritual happenings from true ones during the first great awakening. The greatest differentiation that Edwards pointed out was between the passions, which originated with the flesh, and the affections, which started in the mind. Edwards taught that God wanted our religious affections, certainly our affections should arise above a level of indifference, but not to be confused with passions.

Some of what was being produced by religious folk during the first great awakening was nothing more than passions. These passions, Edwards contends, were not good. The passions is what Resolved attempts to produce. Succeeds, I believe, at that. And, of course, the participants are fooled into thinking that these are legitimate expressions of spirituality. They think that God has been honored, when He has not. Edwards was very serious about this. And I know that what Edwards was concerned about, and pointing out as unorthodox, was not as pernicious as what is done at Resolved and in the name of Edwards.

There's a lot I could write about what I see in the Kauflin, Resolved, video that I linked to, about the worldliness of the music, the actions, the look, and the participants. Some might think that what they see is a lot of earnestness. What you see as supposedly so authentic, so real, is produced by the fleshly nature of the music. The words, some of which are good, other kitsch and trite, get dragged through the profanity that is the medium. The whole show reeks of it.

You should just go ahead and read Edwards' Religious Affections, but the following are a few excerpts that apply.

The affections and passions are frequently spoken of as the same; and yet in the more common use of speech, there is in some respect a difference; and affection is a word that in its ordinary signification, seems to be something more extensive than passion, being used for all vigorous lively actings of the will or inclination; but passion for those that are more sudden, and whose effects on the animal spirits are more violent, and the mind more overpowered, and less in its own command.


If it be so, that true religion lies much in the affections, hence we may infer, that such means are to be desired, as have much of a tendency to move the affections. Such books, and such a way of preaching the word, and administration of ordinances, and such a way of worshipping God in prayer, and singing praises, is much to be desired, as has a tendency deeply to affect the hearts of those who attend these means.

Such a kind of means would formerly have been highly approved of, and applauded by the generality of the people of the land, as the most excellent and profitable, and having the greatest tendency to promote the ends of the means of grace. But the prevailing taste seems of late strangely to be altered: that pathetical manner of praying and preaching, which would formerly have been admired and extolled, and that for this reason, because it had such a tendency to move the affections, now, in great multitudes, immediately excites disgust, and moves no other affections, that those of displeasure and contempt.


Indeed there may be such means, as may have a great tendency to stir up the passions of weak and ignorant persons, and yet have no great tendency to benefit their souls: for though they may have a tendency to excite affections, they may have little or none to excite gracious affections, or any affections tending to grace. But undoubtedly, if the things of religion, in the means used, are treated according to their nature, and exhibited truly, so as tends to convey just apprehensions, and a right judgment of them; the more they have a tendency to move the affections the better.


As from true divine love flow all Christian affections, so from a counterfeit love in like manner naturally flow other false affections. In both cases, love is the fountain, and the other affections are the streams. The various faculties, principles, and affections of the human nature, are as it were many channels from one fountain: if there be sweet water in the fountain, sweet water will from thence flow out into those various channels; but if the water in the fountain be poisonous, then poisonous streams will also flow out into all those channels. So that the channels and streams will be alike, corresponding one with another; but the great difference will lie in the nature of the water.


Lest their religion might too grossly discover itself to be nothing else but a piece of art, there may be sometimes such extraordinary motions stirred up within them, which may prevent all their own thoughts, that they may seem to be a true operation of the divine life; when yet all this is nothing else but the energy of their own self-love touched with some fleshly apprehensions of divine things, and excited by them.

And last,

And as the motions of our sense, and fancy, and passions, while our souls are in this mortal condition, sunk down deeply into the body, are many times more vigorous, and make stronger impressions upon us, than those of the higher powers of the soul, which are more subtle, and remote from these mixed animal perceptions: that devotion which is there seated, may seem to have more energy and life in it, than that which gently and with a more delicate kind of touch spreads itself upon the understanding, and from thence mildly derives itself through our wills and affections. But however the former may be more boisterous for a time, yet this is of a more consistent, spermatical and thriving nature. For that proceeding indeed from nothing but a sensual and fleshly apprehension of God and true happiness, is but of a flitting and fading nature, and as the sensible powers and faculties grow more languid, or the sun of divine light shines more brightly upon us, these earthly devotions, like our culinary fires, will abate their heat and fervor. But a true celestial warmth will never be extinguished, because it is of an immortal nature; and being once seated vitally in the souls of men, it will regulate and order all the motions of it in a due manner the natural heat, radicated in the hearts of living creatures, hath the dominion and economy of the whole body under it. True religion is no piece of artifice, it is no boiling up of our imaginative powers, nor the glowing heats of passion, though these are too often mistaken for it, when in our jugglings in religion we cast a mist before our own eyes: but it is a new nature, informing the souls of men; it is a Godlike frame of spirit, discovering itself most of all in serene and clear minds, in deep humility, meekness, self-denial, universal love to God and all true goodness, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, whereby we are taught to know God, and knowing him to love him, and conform ourselves as much as may be to all that perfection which shines in him.

The feelings produced by Kauflin and Enfield bypass the mind and go straight for the flesh, for the feelings, for the passions. The music is sensual, like the wisdom of this world is (James 3:15). The listeners and participants are convinced that this is something spiritual. It isn't. It is not a religious affection. Some may even feel sincere. What makes the deceit of it difficult to discern is much like that of the Charismatic experiences. People feel something and it seems genuine. However, if it was something in line with God, pure and sacred, not targeting the emotions or the body, true affections for God could be manifested. It is not that emotions are wrong, but that the emotions should be a byproduct of the right intellect and volition. All the squinting and swaying and waving and the throbbing, pulsating beat fool people into thinking that they are having some genuine experience of worship, getting in touch with and pleasing God to some greater extent. That's all manufactured by the music. It's deceiving. God isn't pleased by the passion or the worldliness that it is.

I'm sure that the Resolved and GCC leaders would find it interesting to see what would happen to their conference if they made the platform plain, orderly, and beautiful, and then played and sang hymns with only a piano and strictly by the book. Just the music without all of the passion involved. And then see what kind of response their conference would get from the youth. I'm guessing that every year Resolved would get a little bit smaller, more streamlined. And how could that be a success?

I would be one in opposition to the whole Falwell and Liberty University scene. Recently a lot of folks in the GCC and Resolved circles have savaged Liberty for the whole Ergun Caner fiasco, his lying about his biography for pragmatic purposes. Pragmatic purposes. Like if you associated your conference with Jonathan Edwards and Resolved, but yet you were the furthest thing from what what was important to Edwards. The Caner thing was bad, but which is worse? I'm at least as repulsed by the Edwards corruption.

All of this does a very damaging thing. It damages the discernment of thousands of professing Christians. That's what the Charismatic movement is very much known for with its confusion on the true nature of spirituality. A discussion about the content of this post would take on the nature of one had with a Charismatic---offended or peeved over criticism of the experience. "I know what I felt and I know it was genuine." I believe that Resolved also confuses these young people on the true nature of spirituality. This is what Edwards wrote and warned about.

Side Notes: A few asides. In the video, what's the point of the urban windmills on the back wall? I get the decaying bricks---very hip, very inner city, so authentic, right where people live. The hood. The noble savage. Next, Bob Kauflin sings effeminate (besides not singing very well). What's with men with this contemporary music singing like women? I think I understand. Men becoming like women is popular in this culture. It's hip too. "Get in touch with your feminine side." Do we think that is what male youths need to have in front of them, to be listening to? And you know, by the way, that it's contrived, because when he shouts out phrases and talks, his voice is much different than his singing voice. He does all the throaty improvisation to sound Hollywood. I could say much more, but I'll stop there.


PS Ferguson said...

It is fascinating to note the double standards by men like MacArthur - I guess that is Neo-Evangelicalism for you. I watched a recent Q&A Session by MacArthur on his own website and he strongly argued for why he should wear a tie and suit when preaching. Indeed, he would have put most of the Younger Fundamentalists to shame. I also watched a recent podcast by the late Southern Baptist Adrian Rogers who took a strong biblical stance against the use of alcohol by his members. Again, this would have shamed most so-called Fundamentalists today.

On MacArthur's website he says this about worship, "Modern musicians have pushed this trend even further and often see music as little more than a device for stimulating intense emotion. The biblically-mandated didactic role of music is all but forgotten. The effect is predictable. What we have sown for several generations we are now reaping in frightening abundance. The modern church, fed on choruses with insipid lyrics, has no appetite for her own great tradition of didactic hymnody. We are in danger of losing a rich heritage as some of the best hymns of our faith fall into neglect and disuse, being replaced with banal lyrics set to catchy tunes. It is a crisis, and the church is suffering spiritually. Both pastors and church musicians need to see the severity of the crisis and work diligently for reform."

MacArthur would do well to heed his own advice! He has made a name for himself attacking the Seeker Sensitive Movement and then embraces the very same methodology that comes from their theology. He should note the command of the Apostle Paul, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners,” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

d4v34x said...

"And you know, by the way, that it's contrived, because when he shouts out phrases and talks, his voice is much different than his singing voice."

I've seen this in many different CCM venues by different worship leaders. Apart from driving me nuts, I think its just an imitative thing that has become part of their culture.

As for the rest of this, I agree, and scratch my head at how these folks get so much right and blow something that seems so obvious.

Although I have to say I've never minded Kauflin's voice, but I haven't heard him lately.

Gary said...

I'm a little confused. The way you were talking, I expecting rock n roll music when I clicked on the worship link.

I did not see anything charasmatic there i.e. Barking like a dog, holy laughter, or anyone "drunk" in the Spirit. It sounded similar to a hymn being sung accompanied by various instruments. Is it because God only likes pianos (if so please show me scripture and verse).

I think that his son did a wonderful job writing the song and it would be nice if more young people had a heart for God like that young man.

I did not see any unholy or unnatural emotions being displayed. God made us to be worshipers of him and thus we should feel some emotional joy when we sing to him.

I think that you should take back your statements about his singing "effeminate", as your statements are rude. I believe that that is his God given natural singing voice and I believe he was truly offering sincere, God pleasing worship to the Lord.

Kent Brandenburg said...


That was rock music. You're probably desensitized at this point.

You don't seem to understand what "Charismatic" means. Those are some extremes that you mentioned, but there is also the run of the mill Charismaticism witnessed here.

It's not what instruments per se, but how they're played.

It's not that emotion is shown, but what causes the feeling.

And he sings effeminate. I don't want others to do it, so I'm fine with pointing it out here.

Thanks for dropping by again.

Anonymous said...

4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4) NASB

Patrick Tilson said...

4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4) NASB

Andrew Suttles said...

Kent -

You are a good writer and I enjoyed reading this article. I was right with you through most of it, but the snipe at folks in the GCC circles 'savaging' Liberty University is unnecessary.

I'm not fan of Liberty University, so I don't want to step on your toes, but Ergun Caner is an unrepentant bold-faced liar. Why you would want to ruin an otherwise excellent piece with an apologetic for Caner is weird.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Andrew.

I don't want you thinking that I was defending Caner. I wasn't at all. I was simply making a comparison between the reaction to Caner and then this. It was an attempt to get people to think about why they take one thing serious and the other they don't. There seems to be some hypocrisy. That's it. Thanks for the concern.

LittleNanni said...

Wow! I'm amazed as I read through this blog post. I just returned home from my 4th Resolved conference. I am a 56 year old woman who was raised in the charismatic culture. I would question the author; have you attended a Resolved conference? How have you formed such a critical opinion if you have not attended?
4 years ago the true gospel of the indescribable grace of Jesus Christ changed my life, my affections and desires.
There is not one thing about this conference that even resembles charismania. The opposite is true in fact. The word of God is preached carefully, in an expository way and the word is what changes people's lives. I'm forever grateful for God's mercy and persistence on my soul and His sovereign work in my life through GCC, John Mac Arthur and the teachings at Resolved.
Men like MacArthur, Steve Lawson etc have spent their entire lives studying scripture. Many preachers today simply read a passage and form an opinion of what it means. That is NOT preaching truth. That is actually putting themselves above God and delivering so called "truth" to their flock, who they are responsible for. Be very careful anyone who shepherds, preaches or teaches. James 3:1   Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Little Nanni,

Thanks for coming by. Jehoram left Baal worship in the Northern kingdom. That was good, but it did not excuse, of course, the worship of golden calves at Dan and Bethel. I'm thankful for all the truth MacArthur and the other resolved speakers represent and preach. I'm glad that they are a move to the right direction for you. But that does not excuse where they are wrong in all this. You should consider that. There is only one Truth as there is one God, what and Whom we should follow.

Anonymous said...

Obviously you have way too much time on your hands.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Notice the characteristic comment of a Resolved Conference supporter, Anonymous. This is the height of their substance and style, how they operate. Resolved, slow to hear, quick to speak, quick to wrath.

Patrick Armitage said...

Kent--Great article.

Do you have any specific source from GCC or MacArthur condemning all usage of any visual or aural media in presentation because it is by nature contextualization? Any definition that would clearly demonstration he is in open hypocrisy? I suspect you have misunderstood his definition of contextualization.

Let me be clear that I also abhor contextualization. The problem lies with its assumed to be necessary to reach people, to "soften the rough edges", to make it easier to swallow biblical truth. But the Gospel and the Word of God are by nature antithesis. So when we try to contextualize away the collision between the truth of God and the culture, we are in sin. When we assume that the truth of God can't work unless properly contextualized, we are mistaken.

That being said, there is still wisdom. Wisdom would advise that a missionary should learn the language of the people he is going to evangelize, their customs, and their faux pas. Can Lord still cause the new birth when the Gospel is preached, even without the cultural homework? Yes, because God is sovereign. But wisdom commends us to using the means we have necessary because it's wise. That's all. So GCC is opting to wisely communicate a very antithetical, Scriptural message with some of the norms of our culture--things like grungy design and rock genre worship music. It is tastefully done, not competing with the lyrical content or preaching.

Now tying this together with Edwards. I recently attended a conference on Calvin in which the host openly admitted that Calvin would have hated the conference. But they needed to reference him historically as the originator for their theological assertions. There are things you and I do that, I can guarantee, would have had us burned at the stake by our historical heroes.

I believe Edwards is correct that fleshly affections can never be equated with religious affections of true worship, but to then follow that any artistic adorning of true religious affections somehow makes the whole thing fleshly is non sequitur. Case in point, if we swapped out the Enfield's lyrics replaced them with the standard foul lyrics of today's top charts, worship would cease altogether. This is why articulate theological content in music actually calls for excellent artistic representation. Christ really is glorious and therefore excellent music can underscore rather than overshadow that message.

I think yours actually an argument of degree. You argue for hymns "by the book", but why have piano? For that matter--why have music at all? Monotone chants would do just as well, if we are taking a pure "head to heart" stance on all worship. I could argue back the with your same logic that a melody is a distraction from true worship. Yet the hymn writers of old recognized that a beautiful melody amplifies rather than detracts from genuine worship of true believers (EG "Praise to the Lord," etc.) This seems to be your taste and not a real example of contextualization. I think we need to agree on a definition of contextualization, because I don't believe that GCC is pointing the bony finger then partying in Palm Springs. I understand their methodology as: "so long as media amplifies rather than gets in the way of the razor sharp preaching of the Word, then it is permissible. Not necessary, just permissible." Do you believe they have publicly propagated another position? Where can it be found?

Anonymous said...

To respond to an earlier comment, I doubt John Mac Arthur meant that he always wears a tie to every preaching event. We know that isn't true. He does wear a tie to every Sunday church service. Also, I think it is absurd to say Bob Kauflin sang in an effeminate manner. That was not effeminate at all. That comment was very judgmental and actually slanderous.

The McCall Family said...

Interesting quote from your article: you would like to see "just the music without all the passion involved." I'm sorry brother, but "worship" without passion isn't worship. We must worship in spirit and truth. You have to have the content, but if you sing it without passion, it's dead.